My sister (who totally adores April) was glad to hear that she's visiting and asked "So, I'm sure you pulled out all the stops cooking dinner, what was it?" She also said that it would make a great post. Ok, this is for you sis.
We mostly grazed through the evening. We didn't go course behind course. Which I happen to think is a totally civilized way to do things. Especially if you have other stuff to do around the house. For instance, every night a little before sundown (which in Arizona is often spectacular and something to see) I go out and muck the horse stalls, spread fresh straw for the night, top off the water and drop some hay. Then I go and check the fence and wire barrier around the truck patch. The rabbits will never stop trying to get in, the second line of defense is the barn cats. If I can slow them up by erecting barriers the cats will then patrol any weak spots.
Before I did any of that however, we started the evening off with a fresh spinach salad (the spinach came from the above mentioned truck patch). The first thing to do is to stem and wash the spinach. The best way to wash is to fill a sink full with clear, cold water. (I am presupposing that your sink is scrubbed and clean). As you pinch the stems off of the spinach leaves (horses love the stems) toss them into the water. When you have all the spinach floating, gently agitate the leaves with your hands. The idea is to shake off all the little gritty pieces of dirt and dust which will then drop down to the bottom of the sink away from the spinach. Let it soak for a little bit more, agitate again, then remove from the water, shaking off the excess water and put into a large mixing bowl lined with paper towel.
Grind or finely mince four slices of good bacon (out here in the country we have a butcher who does the slaughtering for back yard pigs. his bacon rules, it's a mesquite smoke cure, not too salty.) Saute the bacon crumbs over a medium flame stopping when the crumbs of bacon are slightly crunchy, but still slightly chewey. Remove from heat and bring over to the spinach. Don't forget to remove the paper towels you were draining on. Add about two tablespoons of a high quality thousand island dressing (Bernstein's is good stuff but Wishbone will do) and two tablespoons of the bacon crumbs and drippings. Toss well. You have to adjust on the fly here. If it's too greasy it sucks, so be ready to add in spinach, thousand or, if there's not a decent wilt action, more hot bacon. Put on the plates, top with crumbled hard boiled egg, sliced mushrooms and croutons (I'll give instructions for real croutons when I get into the soup course). Serve with fresh baguette, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping.
For the baguette.
1 1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon salt (kosher or sea salt is best)
3 2/3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoon dry active yeast
There's no real magic or alchemy to start this recipe off. Just dump it all into the stand mixer with the dough hook attachment and mix well. Then at medium speed hook it for a full five minutes. Remove from the mixer, brush with olive oil, cover with a dish towel and let it rise for 30 minutes or until doubled in size. Punch it down, hook it again for five minutes, then allow to rise once more.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead in enough flour to make the dough easy to handle (that means it shouldn't stick to your hands or the surface but should retain a high degree of elasticity). For thin baguettes (this is what i like) divide the dough in half and roll out to a rectangle of even thickness between 1/4" to 1/2". Roll this up like a jelly roll, pinching the seams and the ends. Brush lightly with olive oil, turn onto your baking pan, (you can dust the surface of the pan with cornmeal now, it adds a nutty crunch to the baguette) cover with a dish towel and allow to rise 30 minutes or until doubled in size.
Before putting it into the oven take an egg white and mix in with a fork 1 tablespoon of water. Brush the baguette liberally with this, bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Brush the baguettes down with the egg wash again and bake another 10 minutes. A well done baguette should be a deep golden brown, the crust should be glossy and hard, it should sound hollow as a bongo drum when thunked with a finger.
Remove from the baking sheet and cool on a wire rack.
The rest of the menu which I'll get posted as time permits this weekend was:
French Onion Soup Gratiné
For anyone expected more detail on the visit of the beautiful and talented April. I hate to disappoint you, but the Code of the West clearly forbids any kissing and telling outside the kitchen.