Thursday, June 24, 2010

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Lately I've been hearing and reading about how good the bread recipes are from the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.

I'm not sure if I'll ever get into the habit of baking my own bread so I borrowed the book from my local library rather than spend money on yet another cookbook that just sits on the shelves.

I've never had any interest in baking my own bread because I didn't think I'd have the patience. Five minutes seems reasonable to me and reading this book has inspired me to finally try it.

In quickly reading through the recipes I noticed that they look straightforward and manageable so I am excited to try one soon. Page 5 is what really encouraged me because it lists what we DON'T have to do - steps from traditional bread baking that they omitted.

1. Mix a new batch of dough every time we want to make bread

2. Proof yeast

3. Knead dough

4. Cover formed loaves

5. Rest and rise the loaves in a draft-free location

6. Fuss over doubling or tripling the dough volume

7. Punch down and re-rise

8. Poke rising loaves to be sure they've "proofed" by leaving indentations

Huh? So glad that those steps are "don't". I don't even know what most of those steps mean - they sound complicated which is exactly what has prevented me from attempting bread baking. I'll report back as soon as I've tried a recipe or two. If you've tried any of these recipes, please share your experience or recommendations.

The secret to the "five minutes" is to make a big batch of dough and refrigerate it so you can bake a fresh batch daily. It is a great idea for the winter when I don't mind turning on my oven. The recipes really do look much easier than the normal bread making process and the reviews of the book are very positive.

By the way, when I was searching Amazon I noticed that the authors have another book called Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free Ingredients - I like the "healthy" part of the title and it got great reviews. If I have good luck with the recipes from the first book, I'll most likely end up buying the "healthy" book.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cucumbers with cherries?

I just received the July issue of Food and Wine magazine which features their annual list of Best New Chefs. Congratulations to all ten of them!

I read the recipes provided by each of the Chefs and one stood out... the Cucumber-Cherry Salad by Mike Sheerin (Blackbird restaurant, Chicago).

I'm not a picky eater (as long as it's fairly healthy) and I'm pretty adventurous in trying new foods and trying unique combinations of ingredients. However, this particular combination of cucumbers and cherries was not one that was intuitive for me, nor was it too appealing, but it did intrigue me. Once I noticed that it's meant to be pared with his Twice-Glazed Asian Barbecued Chicken I'll admit it did sound a lot better. Perhaps it's because I don't prefer to have fruit in my salads, but it also seems that the deep strong flavor of the cherry would overwhelm the lightness of the cucumber. But I guess the guy didn't become a Best Chef if he didn't know what he was talking about it.

I haven't had a chance to try the recipe but I will have to try it soon while cherries are still available and at their peak season. I like how easy the recipe is - the most work is pitting the cherries.

Because the new issue is hot off the press, I wanted to make sure you check out the Best New Chefs - they all look like they're well-deserving of the honor. Being in California, I'm especially excited about James Syhabout (I've eaten at 2 restaurants where worked, Betelnut and Manresa) and Roy Choi (of the famous Kogi taco trucks in LA). My only disappointment is that only one woman made it to the group of ten, but that's a topic for another blog post.

Cucumber-Cherry Salad

2 cucumbers (1 1/4 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound sweet cherries, pitted and halved
1/2 cup cilantro leaves

1.In a medium bowl, toss the diced cucumbers with the white wine vinegar and olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
2. Add the halved cherries and cilantro leaves, toss lightly and serve.

Make Ahead
The salad can be refrigerated for up to 4 hours.

Images in this blog post downloaded from

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Coffee tidbits

While enjoying my afternoon coffee I read a local magazine called Eucalyptus which had some interesting tidbits about coffee that I thought would be fun to share. Did you know...

"North Americans use 130 billion disposable coffee cups per yr. Makting those cups destroys 50 million trees and uses 33 billions gallons of water. Adding to the problem, one person insulating his/her cup w/ one disposable coffee slever per day creates 5.5 pounds of garbage per year, not incl the cup. Shun the paper cup AND the sleeve. Bring your own reusable mug to your fav coffee house."

"Coffee is a tropical export that is produced almost exclusively the developing world, but consumed mostly in wealthier nations. One out of ever five cups of coffee worldwide is sipped in the U.S. On average, U.S. coffee drinkers consume 3.5 cups a day per person. To get your fix and wtill be earth-friendly, insist that your cup o' joe is shade-grown (good for wildlife), organic (no pesticides), and fair trade (assures a fair price to the farmer)." by Steve Scheifer
"Coffee grows on approximately 10% of the earth's surface. The amount of coffee traded internationally is 2nd only to the amount of crude oil. Brazil exports the most."

SHADE GROWN "The tree canopy under which shade coffee is grown provides a fefuge for birds that have lost habitat due to raiinforest destruction. As many as 150 speices of birds are found on shade coffee farms. In full-sun coffee plantations, the species count is reduced by half."

"The largest reltailer of coffee by the cup is Dunkin' Donuts- over 1 billion cups per year it its 6000 locations in 30 countries."

"Kopi Luwak: Coffee beans that re gathered from the droppings of a small tree-dwelling cat called the palm civet. The cat eats the ripest coffee berries which pass through its digestive tract, undergoing chemical changes. Kopi Luwak sells for about $200 per pound."

I really enjoy reading Eucalyptus every month - I look for it at my gym. If you want to check out the digital version of the magazine you can find it at

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Peachy attitude at the Farmer's Market

What's there not to love about this time of the year? Warmer weather, longer days and the Farmer's Markets start to fill up with more and more of the season's best produce.

Every Sunday morning I do a yoga class at my gym (well, almost every Sunday). Just outside my gym there happens to be a little Farmer's Market (Santana Row, San Jose).

I noticed a new vendor recently selling nice looking desserts but with a sour-faced lady sitting behind the table and staring into the space. She wasn't engaging anyone and she looked so unfriendly so I wasn't inclined to stop at her booth. But that didn't stop my dessert-loving husband who decided to ask her what her goodies were. Her answers were short and factual. No details about the ingredients or how it's made, no opinion about how it tasted, no smile - she acted like she was bothered to have to answer his questions. So I didn't even bother to ask her why the Tiramisu was not being kept cold on that 85-degree day.

I was planning to write about the wonderful fruits and vegetables I tasted at the market but the marketing professional in me compelled me to tell you about this woman's poor attitude. I was astonished that she had no interest in trying to sell her products at all. Why the heck was she there?

The interaction with her was so negative that despite how lovely the desserts looked I could not justify giving her my money. I preferred to give it to someone else who had a better work ethic and was going to give me a pleasant experience. I even returned to her booth the following two Sundays after the first encounter to give her the benefit of the doubt (perhaps she had an emotional trauma that first day), but she was exactly the same. And each time I observed to see if customers were going to her booth - they were not. They must have felt the same negative vibe.

Maybe it's the marketer in me that was sensitive to her unfriendliness (or cluelessness). But if I'm going to spend my money (especially on something I don't absolutely need), the interaction should be a positive experience. She wasn't the only one selling desserts there.

Bottom line... a peachy attitude can go a long way. No matter what you're selling, whether it's computer software or cakes, it's important to provide good customer service, which starts with a good attitude and making the customer feel important. I bet replacing her with an enthusiastic seller who is well-versed about the products would triple or quadruple sales.