I am not an over-achiever. I was a solid B student for most of my academic career, excelling in what I liked and not excelling, but not doing poorly, in what I didn't like. My house is fairly neat and tidy, but tables do tend to get a bit cluttered with mail and purses and keys and recipe printouts and such. I am a pretty good sambista (samba dancer) if I do say so myself, but don't practice routines much outside of class, but rather when the mood strikes (and the neighbors aren't looking). I have been known to peruse the blogosphere with a cup of coffee before starting my workday.
But then there is cooking. And the more experience I gain, the more recipes I master, the more ingredients I experiment with, the more I want to achieve in my kitchen. Even over-achieve, if you will. Friday afternoon at work everyone chats about weekend plans. Most people say they are going to relax, see a movie, perhaps go for a hike. I am usually readily prepared with an exhaustive list of things I plan to cook over the weekend. Most people knit their brows in concern wondering why I might choose to do such a thing. "It's ok," I say, "I'm an over-achiever in the kitchen. I love to cook." They unknit their brows a bit and nod their heads.
So when my boyfriend threw a bbq over the weekend for a dear friend of his who is in town, naturally I volunteered to cook. A LOT. I love a good summer bbq, and getting together to share a meal with friends, and I love to feed people. Cooking for a crowd also gives me a reason to cook all the outlandish sweets that I crave without actually having to eat them all. Usually when I want a cookie, I really want to bake the cookies, then have one, maybe two, and then I want them to go away. Roommates and boyfriends can only eat so many cookies, too.
Oh, where to start? These cookies have been all over the interwebs since the story came out in the NY Times a few weeks ago (blogged here, here, and here). I thought if they were good enough for the NY Times and all food bloggers that I like, they were probably good enough for me. A few weeks back I went to another bbq and had just a taste of an amazing layered birthday cake. It was a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting and I had been thinking about the frosting for a good few weeks by now. But cupcakes are fun and easy to transport so I decided on Pioneer Woman's Chocolate Sheet Cake, subbing in a peanut butter frosting. There was a frozen chicken that had been hanging out in the freezer for some time now, so I decided to take him out and brine him so that he would stay juicy on the grill (I don't know why this chicken is a "he" chicken in my mind, but please go with it). Lastly, since I was two years behind the phenomenon, I figured it was time to give that No-Knead bread a try (blogged here and here). With my shiny, new red dutch oven I finally had all the necessary equipment. Whew. Lets get started, hmmm?
I looked a few brine recipes online and settled on one that was originally based on one by Alice Waters. It called for juniper berries and cloves, but I didn't really like that so I used fresh thyme and lemon instead. I had brined a chicken before but didn't remember there being sugar in that brine, but apparently it's in all brine recipes. Hmmmm. I mixed up my salt (1 cup kosher), sugar (scant 1 cup), and aromatics (thyme, peeled garlic) in cold water and soaked the chicken for about 24 hours.
Next I mixed up my cookie dough following Orangette's version of the recipe. The original recipe called for a mixture of flours and chocolate feves, but most other people who tried the recipe used plain old all purpose flour and good quality chocolate chips so I did, too. The key with this recipe is to let the dough rest for 24-36 hours to develop the flavors. I let mine rest for 24 hours and not the full 36 because I'm a busy lady with a day job, etc.
The brining and the cookie dough mixing I did Friday night (exciting, I know) and the rest I did Saturday afternoon, post samba class.
Pioneer Woman's Chocolate Sheet Cake was pretty easy and fun to make. I didn't make any substitutions or subtractions with the cake batter because this recipe is simple and straightforward already. Didn't even have to adjust the cooking time. This batter made about a tray and a half of cupcakes, but I think I could have stretched it further by not filling the cake cups so much.
The peanut butter frosting was pretty good, although not quite the frosting I had been daydreaming of. I used random internet recipe that I can't remember now. I always balk at the amount of sugar called for in recipes and try to skimp. Then I taste it and think, they were right, it does need more sugar. So my frosting could have been just a tad sweeter. And I forgot to take a picture of a frosted cupcake. Damn.
And then there is the bread. Oh, this bread. All the hype you may (or may not) have heard about this bread is so true. And then some. It pains me to admit that I am not very good at making bread. I've been making it for a few years now, not religiously, just spurts here and there of all homemade bread. My loaves are always dense. Brick like. They taste good, but I cannot for the life of me figure out now much or how little to knead. This bread solved all of my bread problems, and I'm sure some other problems, too.
I mixed up the dough on Friday night and let it rise for about 16 hours. This is the dough right before it's second (two hour) rise. There are bubbles on the surface that you can't see in the photo. I folded it over twice, let it rest for 15 mintues, then let it rise for two more hours. It is dusted with wheat bran (next time I plan to use flour) and plopped into a preheated (to 450 degrees) cast iron pot with a lid. It bakes and steams, creating a chewy interior with an airy crumb and a crisp, bakery quality crust.
This is what mine looked like out of the oven. It would have looked like the perfect artisan loaf had it not been bean-shaped. But you try sticking your hands into a 450 degree cast iron pot to straighten the dough out. Ouch. Sorry about the crappy, blurry photo. I am not a great photographer.
So, what became of all these goodies? Mostly they were eaten by hungry boys and a few hungry girls. Did everyone appreciate the subtle nuances of the rested cookie dough? Uh, maybe. Mostly they just ate and said yum. The chicken was horribly butchered (by me, sadly, a few beers in) but the meat stayed juicy on the grill and everyone seemed to like it. Half the cupcakes went quickly and the other half were eaten for breakfast the next day. (Coffee + cupcakes for breakfast do not a happy tummy make).
And what became of the bread? I did not take that to be devoured by hungry, non food snob boys. Instead I saved it and made this with it...
... and brought it to a birthday brunch the next day. Not going to share the recipe today for this savory bread and cheese bake but I will share it soon.
So that was my big weekend. It was a lovely way to spend two days, cooking and feeding people. And all of the dishes worked well, I would make each one again. So.