Thursday, March 12, 2009

Three types of bread - plus Andina trip report

Okay, so I didn't make a single post in February. And it's taken me half of March to get this one up. Well, I'll tell you, I'm just about as busy as an unemployed guy can be. I had a freelance assignment, and I've been playing cards a couple hours a day to make ends meet. But mostly, I've been baking a ton of bread.

Now, Liz and I have been making our own focaccia and pizza dough for a couple years now, but the other week I stumbled across a recipe on the internet that sparked my interest. It's the New York Times "No-Knead" bread recipe, and apparently it was all the rage a few years back. Yeah, we're behind the times.

The "trick" to the recipe is that you bake the bread in a Dutch Oven, which apparently mimics the conditions inside a professional steam-injected oven to give you a crispier crust.

It works. Incredibly well. My first attempt at the recipe:

Light and airy on the inside with a crispy crust. I was never able to achieve this kind of texture in my bread by baking it uncovered.

The crazy thing is how simple this bread is to prepare. Here's a link to .

Now, I spoke with my father-in-law Don about this recipe, and it turns out he's been using the Dutch Oven technique to bake bread for a while now. But, he thinks the NYT recipe needs more salt. He has his own recipe and techniques (which I won't reveal here; check out one of his for details), and he suggested I experiment with the dough a little bit.

Bake more bread? Okay, twist my arm. Here's a roll I made using some normal focaccia dough that had only risen for 2 hours!

Not quite as airy on the inside as the NYT loaf, but the crust was out of this world. Since then, I've made another large-sized loaf using focaccia dough that rose for closer to 8 hours. It was virtually identical to the NYT texture.

Now if you don't have a Dutch Oven, or if you have virtually no patience at all, you can still make some pretty good bread. This is the beer bread recipe I referenced in the last post. To refresh your memory: Mix 3 cups of self-rising flour with 1/2 cup of sugar. Pour in a beer and stir it up. Pour the batter into a buttered bread pan, then pour another 1/4 to 1/2 cup of melted butter on top. Bake at 375 for an hour. Here's what it should look like:

This is a whole different style of bread... crumbly and a bit denser than one you'd make with yeast... but great in its own way. This goes really well with soup.

Okay, enough about bread. I promised an Andina trip report and it's time to deliver. First, a little backstory. serves Peruvian food and is one of the most well-regarded restaurants in the Portland area. We'd heard great things and wanted to check it out, but we couldn't quite justify spending the money when I still hadn't found work. Then I got a gift certificate for my birthday back in November. We finally got around to using it last week.

At some point between the first time we heard about the restaurant and our meal there, our friends Seth and Karen told us that their friend Peter owns the place. I thought I'd mention this both because it's interesting, and also in the interest of full disclosure (even though we haven't met Peter).

Apologies in advance for these photos; the lighting in the restaurant was extremely dim (as is usually the case), making food photography particularly difficult.

Our server brought us a basket of bread and three dipping sauces while we browsed the menu. In order, they were peanutty, mango/orange-y and chili/spicy.

In Argentina, we were often served appetizers just like this -- bread with a salsa-like dipping sauce (often ).

Next up, appetizers. Andina has a couple dozen to choose from, all available in pequeno, mediano and grande sizes. We decided on conchas a la parmesana (bay scallops baked with parmesan cheese and lime butter) and chicharron de pollo (rispy golden chicken studded with quinoa, served with huacatay-peanut sauce).

The scallops were fantastic. You can't even see them through that golden crust of parmesan.

The chicken was tasty, but fell short of the scallops. We were left wondering if we had missed out on some other mindblowing appetizer.

For entrees, I ordered the adobo de cerdo (pork tenderloin quickly braised in the Arequipa style, with butternut squash and gorgonzola ravioli, green apple, and a tamarillo-rocoto “uchucuta”) and Liz had the lomo saltado (wok-fried Cascade Natural Beef tenders with onions, tomatoes, soy sauce, garlic, and aj√≠, served with rice and fried yuca).

First, the adobo:

The pork was tender and flavorful, and the sauce was extremely rich. I didn't notice the butternut squash and gorgonzola flavors in the ravioli; the rich flavor of the sauce overwhelmed them. I enjoyed the dish thoroughly, but afterward I felt a pang of regret that I hadn't ordered the corderito de los andes (a succulent double rack of grass-fed lamb grilled to order, and served with a Peruvian yellow potato and two cheese timbale with a sublime roasted pepper demi-glace).

On to Liz's lomo:

I only sampled a few bites, but the lomo was tangy, savory and delicious. Two thumbs up. As usual, we were both too full to consider any dessert. Between two pequeno appetizers, two entrees and two drinks each, we rang up a $108 tab (including tip).

Well, I actually have quite a few more food photos to post, but in the interest of getting something published on Viva Robusto, I'm going to save them for later and call this a wrap. Stay tuned -- I promise it won't take me another month to post again.