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A while back I watched the now famous Jim Lahey in his video with the New York Times, making his No Knead Bread. I’d heard rumors of this method on the internet, but the lack of a dutch oven made the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes method much more accessible. So, I’ve been making that for the past few months with decent success. I wasn’t entirely satisfied, longing for a better texture. So, when Lahey’s book My Bread arrived with the new library books, and I saw that not all of his recipes required a dutch oven, I snatched it up and brought it home.

His recipe for Stecca was the first one that I jumped on – a sort of Italian style baguette. So easy. So delicious. Honestly, the best bread that I have ever made.

After a few weeks of baking this recipe every week, I tried one of his sandwich recipes: Prosciutto, Mango, and fresh Basil. The flavor was stunning, totally balancing and needing no mayo or sauces at all – just the bread and the three fillings. Divine. The only change I made was to fry up the prosciutto until crisp.

Stecca
by Jim Lahey with Rick Flaste
from My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method
(W.W. Norton, 2009)
Makes 4 thin stick-shaped 18-inch loaves; 1 1/3 pounds

The name of this bread—stecca, or “stick” in Italian—is one I simply made up to describe it, since it has a narrow shape. It’s based on the faster-rising pizza bianca dough you’ll find in the pizza section and is stretched into such a narrow rope that it bakes rapidly. It is also baked on a baking sheet rather than in a pot. In this case, even though I get a good, brittle crust, it’s thinner than most of the other breads in this section. Because I wanted to use it for sandwiches, I was aiming for a lighter-colored, less-assertive loaf of bread to encase the filling ingredients without overpowering them. But the olive oil glaze and coarse salt make it very flavorful on its own.

Ingredients
3 cups bread flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups cool (55 to 65°F) water
Additional flour for dusting
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Method
1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, table salt, sugar, and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.

2. When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Fold the dough over itself two or three times and gently shape it into a somewhat flattened ball. Brush the surface of the dough with some of the olive oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of the coarse salt (which will gradually dissolve on the surface).

3. Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C), with a rack in the center. Oil a 13-by-18-by-1-inch baking sheet.

5. Cut the dough into quarters. Gently stretch each piece evenly into a stick shape approximately the length of the pan. Place on the pan, leaving at least 1 inch between the loaves. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt.

6. Bake the baguettes for 15 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then use a spatula to transfer the stecca to a rack to cool thoroughly.

Note: The baguettes may become a bit soggy in just a few hours because of the salt on the surface. If that happens, reheat the loaves in a hot oven until crisp.

Variation: Stecca Pomodori, all’Olive, o al’Aglio (Stecca with Tomatoes, Olives, or Garlic)
Push 10 cherry tomato halves, cut side up, 10 large pitted olives, or 10 lightly crushed garlic cloves into each formed stecca, taking care to space the additions evenly down the length of the dough. Brush each stecca with enough olive oil to create a thin coat of oil on the surface. For the tomato stecca, top each tomato half with a very thin slice of garlic and a couple of fresh thyme leaves, and sprinkle with salt. Sprinkle the garlic stecca with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Do not salt the olive stecca—it’s already salty from the olives.

Recipe © 2009 Jim Lahey. All rights reserved.

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Last year I wanted a Moleskine weekly planner. Instead, I was given an awesome Quo Vadis Business planner to use and review. At the beginning of 2009, I was sort of irritated by the narrow, vertical columns layout of the Quo Vadis and wished I had something more like the horizontal rows of the Moleskine. By mid-year, I had changed my mind and loved the way the vertical layout worked for me.

When Christmas holidays arrived, I needed a new planner – fast. And of course, I hadn’t made any attempt previously to try to find another Quo Vadis like mine. In my quick shopping trip up the hill, there was no Quo Vadis to be seen, so I ended up snatching up the planner I had originally wanted last year.

A few days into the year, and I am missing my little orange planner with it’s lovely paper and vertical columns with the hours marked out for me. This Moleskine Pocket Weekly has not won me over yet. Guess we’ll see how the year progresses.

With the planners I received for reviewing, I was also generously given a few other goodies to try out. There was never a condition to review these items, but I am very happy to promote quality like this.

First off, the Rhodia pad. These little things have been seen worldwide for decades, and I don’t know how I went this long without trying one. It’s a simple little orange notepad, built for tough and practical usage. The front cover is scored in perfect segments for folding over. I’m generally partial to spirals for notepads, but this set up works great without the clumsy lump created by a spiral. I keep mine in my large camera bag, using it for sketching portrait shoot ideas. It’s replaced my former Moleskine Volant, which was black and just wasn’t cutting it for the job. All of my equipement, bags, and many of my clothes are black. I kept losing the little Volant. The Rhodia, with its orange cover, stands out nicely and never gets left behind. It will also, due to the cover design, stay open for hands-free reference. And the paper is fantastic! Makes me rather curious about the Rhodia Webnotebooks…

Next, the Clairefontaine notebook. I love this thing. Out of the stack of goodies I received, this is the item that competed with my planner for heaviest usage. The size is convenient, and the paper is simply divine. As I mentioned before, I have a soft spot for spiral notebooks. Well, I have never used one this fantastic before. It’s all about the paper. When I’m trying to convince someone that fountain pens are worth the bother and not as intimidating as they think.. I reach for this notebook and get them to write in it with a fountain pen. They always stop and look at me with a “wow” in their eyes. So smooth and silky it makes writing a joy.

Lastly, the Exacompta sketchbook. It’s a black “Silver Edge Basics” sketchbook with heavy, 100g paper that is pH neutral and contains 25% cotton. Each page seems to have a smooth side and slightly textured side. Not being a fan of texture in my sketchbooks, I generally opt for the smooth side of things. The texture is faint enough to not be much of a problem for me, however. One of the winning features of this book is the binding, which is sewn and cloth-bound. A sketchbook that won’t lay flat is infuriating, and forcing one to lay flat only to later lose pages is even worse. This great little item will not only lay flat, but it will hold together with use. Now, if only they would make this book in a smaller size. I currently prefer smaller books for sketching, and the 5×8″ just means this one gets left at home. The pages are heavy enough to withstand some ink usage – which enables me to draw with my fountain pen without bleed-though. I haven’t had a problem with feathering, either, which is great! I’ve been on the lookout for some dip pens for months, and finally have some coming in the mail now. My current primary sketchbook will not take fountain pen ink, so I’ve held my Exacompta in reserve to use with my dip pens. Can’t wait to play!

The stack of loot:

The Rhodia at work:

My heavily used Clairefontaine:

Lay-flat happiness:

The end:

Earlier this year, I was sent a package of goodies from Exaclair, Inc (the US distributor of fine products by Clairefontaine, Exacompta, Rhodia, Quo Vadis, and more). I was a late shot-in-the-dark addition to their planner review offer (aka, they send me a planner, I review it on my blog), and they happened to have a few left that no one had claimed. Not only did I get in on the offer, but I got the exact planner I wanted – and more. The kindly Karen Doherty sent me a Quo Vadis Business planner in an orange Habana cover (4″x6″), as well as the Minister planner in the same cover (approx 6″ x 9″), a Clairefontaine spiral notebook, an orange Rhodia pad, and a sketchbook. Oh, the wealth!

All this arrived partly into the new year, and I was also waiting on some fountain pens and ink to play with. The agreement was: a review in exchange for a planner, but it seemed a bit late to be posting a review of a product that probably sells the most from November to early January. Also, it seemed a lot of other reviews I had seen didn’t really put the planner to work. I decided to hold off and post a review later in the year, when I had spent some true practical time  using the planner, and when people would be actually looking online for reviews.

Honestly, I was skeptical of the vertical format. I hated it at first, and it’s perhaps a good thing that I gave it time before publishing a review. I thought there wouldn’t be room to write, that the lines for hours were a waste of space for my schedule. I was flipping through Moleskine weekly planners with their more horizontal layouts – I even bid on a few on eBay (unsuccessfully – why pay much when you have free one to use?). But now that I’ve put this baby to good use, I love the format and find it difficult to see how the other type of layout would work for me! One complaint, though, is that the Sunday really would be best as a full column. My Sundays are BUSY days and it’s tough trying to get it all written on the bottom of the page.. sometimes I just skip it and try to just remember my plans for that day.

I love the tear-out corners for fast jumps to the current week, as well as the space on the right side for notes. The breakdown of the notes into catagories doesn’t really work for me, but that’s easily overcome by just writing over the faint titles.

Most importantly: I was able to write with my fountain pens (using my standard ink: Noodler’s Black) without the slightest bleed-through on the pages. The sewn binding lays flat nicely and held up to abuse as I carried the small book in my purse all year – didn’t lose a single page. There are only a few smudges to show age, and the elastic band still has a nice snap to it.

I loved the quality of the paper. The Minister planner, which is almost identical aside from size, had better paper perhaps, but I didn’t find it necessary for something I was only jotting in here and there. It’s not as if it is a full journal. I much prefer the Business for it’s size – tiny and portable!

All-in-all, I give it my vote. Great product!

Fresh from the mail back in January 09:

Stack of goodies (January 09):

Used and abused in December (nice to see how my photography has improved since January):

Scribbles and bits (December 09):

29 Days of Giving

Chrysti, a fellow WordPress blogger, is hosting her own huge giveaway called 29 Days of Giving! It’s crazy, but the gifts are rather impressive! Go check it out.