Monday, December 10, 2007

Trouble with heat

We had a weekend of quite rich food, so Madame was a bit out of sorts yesterday evening. I had made a fairly rich stew that had been simmering nicely in the oven, but come time for dinner and she wasn't interested. It was cold enough overnight so I could leave the dutch oven outside - well covered and weighted so it could cool and allow any fat to rise to the surface and congeal. After breakfast I portioned some of the stew so she could take it to school for her lunch, refrigerated some and froze the rest. At the same time I made the dough for the (almost) no knead bread. All this and it wasn't yet 7am.
I was a bit startled at around noon when Madame phoned and told me that the stew was too spicy hot to eat. So much so that it made her tongue swell. I tasted the portion in the fridge and there was no spiciness at all. Quite the mystery. Since the only seasonings were salt, pepper, bay leaves and reconstituted dried porcini, I couldn't figure out the issue.
At round 2pm, I shaped the dough for the bread, and set it to rest. At 4:30 or so, I followed the directions for the bread recipe, heated the oven to 500 degrees and put my trusty 30 year old Le Creuset dutch oven into it to preheat. Back upstairs to work for a bit. Imagine my surprise when there was a loud pop from the kitchen. On opening the oven door to see if everything was OK, I saw that the knob on the lid of the dutch oven had exploded. The kitchen was full of acrid phenolic smells. This didn't look good for the bread!
So, off to buy a suitable dutch oven. Cooks Illustrated recommended a Tramontina cast dutch oven - but the only one I could find at my local Target had a plastic knob too. So, continuing the search at Linens and Things (nothing suitable), Macy's - a nice Calphalon enameled pan for more than $200, Williams Sonoma had a deal on Le Creuset for close to $300.
Eventually I tried Bed, Bath and Beyond, and saw a wonderful range of $200 pans there too. Over the weekend I had casually remarked that I thought celebrity endorsement was a scam. The Wolfgang Puck's apologies for restaurants in Chicago's O'Hare airport being great examples of such scams. So, I had no intention of buying a celebrity endorsed dutch oven - that it until I saw the Emeril Lagasse branded 6qt. cast iron dutch oven for $49.95. That was it. I needed a pan, the dough was rising inexorably and I didn't know what would happen to it if I didn't cook it.
The stories end happily, Madame brought home the spicy remnants of the stew - and indeed it was extremely fiery. I have no idea how that happened - especially as the rest of the stew was not all spicy. The dutch oven withstood the heat of the oven, and turned out a beautiful looking loaf. It is still cooling, so we won't know until tomorrow what the bread is like. The house smells like a bakery - a great improvement on earlier in the day when it smelled like a plastics factory.

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