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Single (and cooking) in the City

Food, life, love, and fun recipes

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bread

Pan de Coco

Roughly 2 years and 2 months ago, I took one of the least glamorous, but most eye-opening and relaxing vacations ever in my adult life.

From the inception of the idea, generated by a daily lifestyle newsletter, to booking and pre-paying for a $35-dollar-a-night cabana (and that is considered EXPENSIVE!) online (relying on nothing but a couple of pictures and some “visitor comments”) to finally, a flight out to Managua (Nicaragua) followed by yet another flight on a 14-passenger single engine aircraft to Big Corn Island, and a rocky water taxi ride to Little Corn… it was well worth the transfers to get to a piece of almost undisturbed paradise.

On Little Corn Island you won’t find vehicles. Or roads. Or much electricity beyond the 4-block long “town.” And you certainly won’t find very many “tourist-traps” beyond the couple of friendly Australian surfstands. I did manage, however, to find my tourist trap – a little house next to a school that sold the most amazing coconut bread.

If I could manage to find my way to town from the depths of the jungle where I was staying, relying on nothing but landmarks such as a tree that leans a certain way, or a pile of suspicious looking potholes and dirt, I would be able to buy, from what I remember to be pennies, a loaf of coconut bread which I would then snack on the entire day as I relaxed on a hammock by the beach. And if I had forgotten to alert my hosts in advance that I would be dining with them? No worries, I’ll make whatever’s left of that loaf last the whole evening… and look forward to buying more in the morning when my stomach starts to grumble.

The couple of weeks after I’d left paradise, I raved about this amazing bread. But after months away, I soon forgot about the taste, until I tried the pan de coco at La Playa, a new restaurant situated on a cursed corner of 5th avenue in Park Slope. It was bland and unmemorable, and unsurprisingly, the place was shuttered not even a year into their lease.

I could say that the taste of that amazing bread used to plague my dreams, but as any sane human being would do, I used my survival skills to forget about it and move on. Write it off as something I will probably never have again. And perhaps feel a little thankful that I wouldn’t be able to find yet another evil carb loaded treat on my part of the hemisphere. But as the stars would have it, destiny is unavoidable. That is, my destiny to have bread prove to become my demise.

I found a recipe for pan de coco on the Whole Foods website.

And so, at about 10pm, I started making my dough. 2 hours later, I snuck a bite of the freshly baked bread, closed my eyes, and saw heaven.

Pan de Coco (recipe from Whole Foods)

Pretzels Bretzels

We skipped dessert at Faustina and decided instead to take a walk down to Alphabet City to visit a little pretzel shop called Sigmund.

Alphabet City is one of those neighborhoods that New Yorkers love to reminisce about. The stories about drugs, crimes, and rampant debauchery all paint a picture of the New York that natives love to use to remind both transplants and the younger generation of how good they’ve got. Alphabet City was the section of town you dared not enter. You’d be hard pressed to find a legitimate cab that would bring you past 1st ave, since the subway system doesn’t exist in those parts, and frankly even now, you can’t easily convince me to want to venture out there without a couple shots of liquid courage first. Not for the fear of what might happen to my life and well being, but for the fear of what might happen to my poor Fancy Shoe clad feet. Alcohol does well to numb the senses… right down to my toes.

So on that Sigmund Saturday, I was armed with my sandals and just pedicured and massaged feet. They were refreshed and ready to take on long grimey New York avenues. We walked past the storefronts (a combination of age old bodegas, new old vintage shops, and cute little specialty shops) to Sigmund’s Pretzelshop, an airy and white painted space with a chalkboard menu and fancy sodas lining a serving counter. For 8 dollars we bought 2 pretzels and a seltzer.

The garlic parsley pretzel was amazing. Served warm, the inside was tender, and the outside was coated in that delicious flavor that only garlic can impart. The cinnamon raisin pretzel was a bit more of a disappointment. Though also toasted, it was hard and chewy, and partly due to my ghetto upbringing, I couldn’t help but compare it to an Auntie Anne’s cinnamon dusted pretzel… and how much I wished I was eating that instead. (I know — Blasphemy!! I’ve just shamed home cooks and bakers everywhere! Damn you, fast food establishments!) All pretzels are served with a dip, and we chose dijon mustard for the savory and nutella for the sweet. I didn’t care much for the dips. Sigmund’s also has a couple of pretzel sandwiches that I would’ve loved to have tried (if we already didn’t have a 1st dinner and a 2nd dinner in the waiting). I was reminded of the sandwiches at Hannah’s Bretzels… and god, how I missed them.

Inspired, I set out to make bretzel rolls last night, but due to a recent moth infestation, I had to toss out my all purpose and resort to using the whole wheat flour my mom had cleverly suggested I keep in a recycled tin saltine crackers container. (Mothers… they know everything!!)

The bread was tender enough, but the crust wasn’t as crispy as pretzels usually are. And especially with the use of the wheat flour, the taste was drastically different from a normal pretzel. The recipe was easy enough to follow, however, and I hope to be giving it a another shot in the future.

Bretzel Rolls

  • 1 cup + 6 tbsp flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp yeast
  • 1/2 tsp each of salt and sugar
  • 9 tbsp of hot water
  • cornmeal
  • 8 cups of water
  • 1/4 cup of baking soda
  • 2 tbsp of sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • coarse salt

Mix the flour, yeast, salt and sugar together, and slowly add the warm water until dough sticks together. Knead and set aside in a well oiled bowl to rise until doubled in size. Divide into 4, roll each and cut an X into the tops. Pour 8 cups of water into a pot and bring to boil. Add the baking soda and sugar, stir. Set a baking sheet aside, cover with parchment paper and sprinkle some cornmeal on the surface. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Take each roll and cook it in the boiling water for 30 seconds on each side. Use a slotted spoon to drain and place on the parchment. Use the egg white as a wash, and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake in oven for 25 minutes.

Flatbread, Part II – Pesto

Believe it or not… the leftover pizza dough got even tastier overnight. There must be little fridge elves, sprinkling love and deliciousness onto the dough as it sat there for 2 days, not neglected.. but reserved for a special purpose.

I discovered pesto very late into life, perhaps just last year, when one of my friends brought in a pasta salad for a party. It was incredible – the cold refreshing taste of basil and crunchy vegetables.. I had to learn how to make that. Since then I’d made pesto once, which I then tossed into a huge bowl of pasta and vegetables, and I ate that for days. It was a pasta salad week. And I could’ve sworn I could smell garlic and basil oozing out of my pores, not exactly all that attractive. Coincidentally, that was probably also the week of my dating dry spell…

This time I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I had the leftover dough from the other night and a bunch of basil that I knew would not keep for much longer. I made a quick pesto, subbing walnuts for the pinenuts (the poor man’s pesto, is what I call it. Who knew pinenuts cost $9 for 4 tiny ounces?) and set it aside for my lunchtime masterpiece.

Pesto Flatbread

Pesto

  • 1 cup of packed basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1/8 cup of grated parmesan
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • a handful of walnuts
  • salt and pepper

Pizza Dough (see recipe)

Pulse the garlic, walnuts, basil and parmesan in a food processor and then add the olive oil, pulsing to combine into a paste. Add salt and pepper to taste. (I’m using less cheese in this pesto because I figured I’d be adding other cheeses to it, depending on what I’d be using it for.)

I took the leftover pizza dough out of the fridge, let it come to room temp for a bit, and then rolled it out as thin as I could, about 1/4 inch. Top with pesto paste, and on half, I added some of the roasted vegetable quinoa salad I had leftover. Crumble some goat cheese on everything and bake at 500 degrees for about 15 minutes. Be careful to check that it doesn’t burn! Mine looked done a couple minutes short of 15, and you can smell the delicious garlic and basil. In fact, my apt still smells like it right now. I think I’ll continue sitting around here for a bit. (Ok no, OFF the couch, lazy ass! Its a gorgeous 80 degrees outside!!!)

Me and my walking shoes bid you adieu! Happy Lunchtime!

Sliders and Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

Every month, for reasons too crude to discuss (but I’m sure the bright ones out there can probably figure out), there are about 3 or 4 consecutive days where my mind just seems to want to focus on nothing but comfort foods. And I usually cave in. Tonight was one of those nights where a clean plate of sauteed veggies was just not going to do.

I had saved some leftover meatballs for the exact purpose of trying to make meatball sliders. I had planned this days in advance, that’s how excited I was to prepare this absolutely adorable miniature version of a hamburger. (Is there anything girls love more than mini things??) I sought out a recipe for the buns, which I found on Smitten Kitchen, and set off to half-ass it the way I usually half-ass things. No roasted garlic, no molasses, and no cheese. (And probably no good.) The buns on their own tasted delicious. A bit sweet (I substituted honey for the molasses), and had a nice crisp shell and a tender interior. But with the meatballs, the taste was too sweet.

I don’t recommend following my recipe, but this is what I did. Analyze away and feel free to criticize me on the many things I did wrong. That’ll make me feel good… not! (Just kidding, I could use some help.)

Meatball Sliders

  • 3/4 cup of warm water
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups of flour

I used half measurements of the above ingredients, and in a stand mixer (with dough hook attachment) combined the water, yeast, honey and oil. Mix flour and salt together, and add to mixer with the wet ingredients. When the dough comes together, take it out, knead it on a floured surface and let it rise in a well oiled bowl for 30 minutes. Shape to size, arrange on baking sheet, and let it rest a bit more before baking in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.

The 2nd half of my dinner experiment was a butternut squash mac and cheese, to use up some of the leftover butternut squash. This was a disaster. Mostly because I learned I don’t like mushed up butternut squash. Tastes like mushed up pumpkin. Add that to the list of things I don’t like! Of course, this was by no means the fault of Martha Stewart. I just had to learn the hard way that there are some flavors I do not prefer.

Perhaps I should have just gone with the suggestion of What the Fuck Should I Make for Dinner.

Fresh Ingredients and Flatbread

I can make you a list of my least favorite foods: cilantro, ginger, licorice, onions, scallions, tomatoes… (And I could list it alphabetically too!) But I can also tell you that only 1/3rd of that list remains unchanged. Cilantro? Really fantastic in sauces. Ginger – I like that it adds a bit of flavor, although I still refuse to eat it. Onions – especially caramelized… is there anything sweeter? Scallions – I love scallion pancakes. And tomatoes… the most recent food I’ve learned to agree to live with. (I’m even able to pinpoint for you the moment I crossed the line from hate to love – Tomato-Basil Spaghetti at Scarpetta. Thank the master of the tomato, Scott Conant.) Now, most days, you will find my fridge stocked with at least one fresh tomato, perfect for some last minute pasta, or in this case, a very fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil flatbread.

I am no wizard with yeast doughs. In fact, the first pizza I ever made with wheat flour turned out to be a hard disc wheat cracker. The 2nd time, the dough was so bland, I took one bite, tossed the rest, and accepted a last minute dinner date with someone I met online. (And we all know how “being too available” translates to desperation, as if online dating weren’t desperate enough, but really, it was my stomach… desperate for something that didn’t taste like cardboard.) So this time, I tried a different recipe, from a recent post on Not Eating Out in New York. I cut her dough recipe in half, and only prepared half of that as a side to my leftover quinoa salad.

Mozzarella, Tomato, and Basil Flatbread

  • dough (from recipe)
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • mozzarella, sliced similar in thickness to tomatoes
  • basil leaves
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper

Prepare the dough according to the recipe. My impatience led me to only let the dough rise for about 20 minutes, which made it difficult to stretch and shape, and I also didn’t let it sit after shaping, because I got hungry. The rest is easy: arrange the tomato slices on the dough, top with mozzarella, and basil leaves, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake in a 500 degree oven for 15 minutes.

This will probably be my new default dough recipe, because although at first I was alarmed by how much salt was added to the flour, in the end, it turned out to be flavored perfectly. I’ll save the other half I have, risen properly and stowed away in the fridge, for a later attempt!