Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chive-Speckled Potato Bread with Winter Vegetable Soup . . . This is Snow Day Food!

Wonder of wonders! A snow day that came complete with prior notice. I don't believe that's ever happened around here before. Days like that are such a nice respite, dropping into our laps like found money, no strings attached. They quiet the world down.

No school for anyone, not even me! So, instead of fretting over the construction of a sugary delicacy in my Plated Desserts class yesterday, I relished the luxury of slicing, dicing, stirring, and whirring a big pot of  winter vegetable soup in my own little kitchen. Served up with a generous slice of the moist, chive-speckled potato bread that I'd baked up on Tuesday night, and all was right with the snow-blanketed world.

Whatever our age, snow days release us from our most cumbersome daily responsibilities, if only briefly. It did my heart good to know that my 17-year old son, Charlie, spent much of the day outside, sledding with a pack of his friends. He's on the swim team at his high school, so he doesn't get to do all that much these days aside from schoolwork and swimming. Often he's out the door and on his way to the pool by 5:30 in the morning to swim before classes start, then the team swims again after school until about dinner time. A long night's sleep is a pretty rare commodity for him, let alone the time to spend almost an entire day outside. He reveled in the break from routine.

Meanwhile, Nathan, my 14-year old, spent a few hours of his own on another local slope with a couple of his pals. Dropping them all off at the neighborhood park, it was cute to witness these man-sized boys ultra-bundled and pulling plastic sleds behind them. When Nathan finally walked in the door last night around 7pm, his cheeks were as pink as a four year old's and he looked just as carefree. (He'll chastise me if he ever reads that, but I'll take the chance.) I hope my kids never conclude that they're too grown-up to play in the snow.

About these recipes . . .

This bread recipe is adapted from one I found on The Fresh Loaf, which is one of the most useful blogs around for  amateur bread bakers. If you have a bread question of any kind, chances are the answer lurks within that site.

Really good, this loaf gets its moistness from a small amount of baked, and then mashed, russet potato, along with a dollop of sour cream and a handful of chopped fresh chives. The original recipe called for use of an unpeeled red potato, but I used a peeled russet potato instead. The original also indicated adding in chopped cooked bacon along with some of the bacon fat, but I left that out entirely. I revised the instructions to reflect what I actually did.

The soup's secret flavor-weapon is the addition of a semi-sweet Riesling; a cup of the white wine is poured in after chopped shallots and garlic have softened in a smidgen of butter in the pot, and before all of the vegetables and broth are added in and brought to an intense and lengthy simmer.

Once all the veggies are tender, the soup is almost fully pureed with an immersion blender, with as many chunky bits left in there as you please. Season the soup to suit your taste, and you're all set. (My adaptation of the soup is based upon a recipe that can be found at this link. I revised the instructions to reflect what I actually did when making my version of the soup.)

Russet Potato Bread with Fresh Chives

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

This recipe made one large round loaf, which I baked on a baking stone.  

Bake one medium-sized russet potato. When it's cool enough, scoop out the insides and set aside. You can discard the skin. Mash 1/2 cup of the cooled potato.

Ingredients for the bread:
1/2 cup mashed russet potato
3 to 4 cups All Purpose flour
3/4 cup water, lukewarm
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tsp. instant yeast (I buy mine from King Arthur Flour or from a health food store. I've come to really prefer it over active dry yeast. I love that you don't have to proof it first.)
1 tsp. salt (I used 1 and 1/4 tsp. coarse kosher salt)
1/2 cup fresh chives, chopped small

In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment, combine the mashed potato, 2 cups of the flour, the yeast, and the salt. Add in the water, sour cream, and chopped chives. Mixing on low speed, add in the remaining flour a little at a time over a couple of minutes. The dough will be sticky. Turn the dough out onto a well floured work surface and knead it with your hands until it forms a fairly smooth mass. If your dough is extremely sticky, work in more flour; if it's a drier dough, minimize the amount of flour you use for kneading.

Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, turning it over so it's oiled on all sides. Cover it with plastic wrap that's also been oiled or sprayed with vegetable spray, so the dough won't stick to it. Cover that with a dish towel and place the bowl in a relatively warm spot to rise. Let it rise until it's about doubled. That may take up to 90 minutes.

Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and press it firmly with your knuckles to remove the gas. Pick up the dough and round it, gently pulling downward on the sides to create surface tension. Let the dough rest for 10 to 15 minutes on the work surface, lightly covered with the plastic wrap from your bowl.

Prepare a basket/bowl for the final proofing. I used a shallow metal mixing bowl, in which I placed a couche (a piece of heavy linen fabric, specially designed for proofing dough; you can approximate this with a big, non-fuzzy, cotton/linen dish towel) that had been very heavily dusted with flour.

Once the dough is done resting and it feels relaxed and no longer resistant to shaping, shape it into a smooth round mass and seal the bottom seam by pinching it closed tightly with your fingertips. Place the dough seam side down into the flour-lined couche in the bowl/basket.

Cover the dough lightly with the oiled plastic wrap and gently lay the side flaps of the cloche over that. Let the dough proof until it's doubled in size, perhaps 45 minutes to 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 425 and, if you're using a baking stone, place it in the oven now so it has plenty of time to preheat.

If you're not using a baking stone, you'll need a parchment lined baking sheet.

When the dough has doubled, lift it very carefully out of the couche, and place it onto a flour dusted baker's peel (use the peel if you're going to be putting it on a hot baking stone), or directly onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Spritz the top of the dough lightly with water (this will help prevent it from bursting while it bakes). Slide it onto the heated stone, if you're using one. Spritz water into the oven very quickly from a spray bottle to create moisture--just a few brief squeezes, then shut the door gently.

Let the bread bake at 425 for only 5 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 for the remainder of the bake time. The bread may take about half an hour to bake. It should be golden and its internal temperature, in the center of the loaf, should reach about 195 on an instant-read thermometer. Let the finished loaf cool on a rack.

Winter Vegetable Soup
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

1/2 of one medium size green cabbage, shredded or chopped
1 medium size turnip, peeled and chopped into small pieces
4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into small pieces
4 stalks of celery, cleaned and cut into small pieces
1 medium size potato (I used an unpeeled russet)
1 small handful of chopped, fresh, flat-leaf parsley
1 extra large shallot or 2 medium shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium clove of garlic, peeled and minced
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup Riesling or other semi-sweet white wine
2 quarts of vegetable stock (I made some using water mixed with Better Than Bouillon vegetable base; another nice choice is Kitchen Basics vegetable stock, especially if you're concerned about the sodium aspect.)
1/2 cup half & half (optional)
kosher salt to taste
fresh ground black pepper to taste
Dijon mustard to taste

Melt the butter in a large stock pot. Add in the shallots and garlic and simmer until they're translucent. Pour in the wine and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add in all the chopped veggies, and the parsley, along with the broth. Let the soup simmer on medium heat until all the vegetables are tender; it could be at least an hour. Turn off the fire. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup in its pot until it's got a minimal amount of chunks left. Add in, if you prefer, about 1/2 a cup of half and half to make a richer soup. Add in salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with your fresh bread and enjoy!

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