Saturday, January 28, 2012

Chickpeas: Just One More Dinner

My last two “Cooking Off the Cuff”s for The Washington Post - here and here - have featured chickpeas, for which Jackie and I developed a new fondness on our recent visit to Barcelona. In addition to the dishes I talk about in those posts, I used chickpeas the other day in a paella-like rice dish which is also worth mentioning.

I try to keep little balls of sofrito in the freezer (see here), so starting these rice dishes doesn’t require any planning; if it did, we wouldn’t eat so many of them. For this one, I browned some chunks of Spanish chorizo and batons of lightly smoked pancetta in olive oil (not too much, as the meats have their own fat), then added a spoonful of onions (also pre-cooked, by the way), a sliced Serrano chili and one of my sofrito balls. 

Finally, I added chickpeas and liquid – a light mixture of chicken stock, chickpea broth and water – a sprinkle of pimentón and finally the rice (the Spanish bomba variety). It cooked, uncovered, until done; then I covered it with a towel and left it for twenty minutes before serving.

It could have used a nice juicy sweet red bell pepper for extra moisture, but it was very good nonetheless. I often use pre-cooked dried beans in my Catalan-type rice dishes, but the chickpeas are an excellent, perhaps even better, alternative.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Doublethink and Hot Dog Buns

George Orwell could have coined the word “doublethink” just for me. Holding two conflicting ideas in my mind is one of my special talents.

Take today’s dinner. The oven is set to 325 F (160 C) so that I can slowly braise a beef brisket for tomorrow evening, when company is coming. I know that the meat is going to be in there until about 7 p.m., yet I simultaneously decide that this would be a good night for pizza; I’ve even bought a nice fresh mozzarella. This, of course, means (since we tend to eat early) that I need to put the oven up to its maximum at around five-thirty, which would spoil the brisket.

So there’s this ball of pizza dough a-rising and there’s this 325-degree oven. I can’t save the dough for tomorrow to make some sort of first course for our dinner party, because I’ve already done the preparation for a totally different dish. And I suspect we’ll be eating leftover brisket for several days to come, so pizza is not in the offing. I could freeze the dough, but then I’d have to plan well in advance to defrost and use it.

When I bought the brisket (at Dickson’s Farmstand Meats in Chelsea Market) I also bought a pack of their hot dogs, which Jackie and I had never tried. Hot dogs are nice when eaten in buns, and it occurred to me that a low oven would be a good place to bake such buns, which don’t need to have a crusty exterior – quite the contrary. So, I divided the pizza dough (which I’d luckily made with some olive oil, giving it a particularly nice flavor and texture) into circa-2.5-ounce (70g) balls and formed hot-dog-bun-like shapes.

I let them rise a good 45 minutes and baked them for 35 minutes, checking their internal temperature to make sure they were cooked through: at this temperature they didn’t brown much so it was hard to judge visually (I could have glazed them, but why?). Some would say that breads are done at an internal temperature of 195 degrees F (91 C), but that doesn’t work for me, as breads at that temperature can be clammy and doughy when cool. I prefer them to be at least 10 Fahrenheit degrees (18 C degrees if I’ve got my calculation right) hotter than that at their core.

I left them to cool under a cloth (so the outside would remain soft), simmered and griddled the hot dogs and rang the dinner bell.

To my mild surprise, they worked perfectly. They were tasty; they were cooked through and didn’t compress to dough balls as we ate our hot dogs, as lots of commercial buns do; they were soft, but sufficiently substantial.

I’ll do this again, perhaps for hamburger buns – and even if there isn’t something already braising in the oven.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

On vacation

I'll be away for the better part of two weeks and almost certainly will not be doing any cooking. That's not to say there will be no new posts, but they are unlikely to report on kitchen activities.