Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Olive Oil Crackers with Sesame

People tend to be surprised that I make my own crackers, but they're easy, they're fresh, and they contain only what I put in them... and I can put all sorts of things in them, depending on my mood. Crackers are great on their own, but if I know I'm going to serve them with a specific cheese or dip or pate, I like to tailor the flavors to match.

Right now, JG and I have some amazing cheeses from Houston Dairymaids. My favorite is a creamy semi-ripe from grass-fed cows with a rich color and out of this world earthy flavor that merited a cracker with a little extra crunch.
Recipe: Olive Oil Crackers with Sesame
You can use a pizza wheel or fluted pastry wheel to make evenly-sized crackers. Be sure to cut all the way through the dough. They'll break easily along the score lines after they're cooled.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup bread (high-protein) flour [you can sub all-purpose or more whole wheat]
3/4 cup water

additional flour for rolling
1 egg
1/8 cup water
1 tsp white sesame
1 tsp black sesame
1/2 tsp brown mustard seed
cracked black pepper

Turn oven on to 400 F. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour, salt, and baking powder. Drizzle oil over and squeeze through with your fingers until evenly distributed. Add remaining flour, stir briefly to distribute, and water. Stir, scraping sides, until dough ball forms. It's a pretty wet dough, so it'll be a little sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest 17 minutes. [The rest, called autolyse in baking, is crucial for gluten formation.]

Coat two cookie sheets with flour [or parchment paper and flour]. Divide dough in half, sprinkle with flour and roll out as thinly as possible, adding more flour when necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin. Repeat with second sheet. Whisk together the egg and water and brush over the dough [this makes the toppings stick. I just pour it on and smear it with my hand if I can't find a pastry brush]. Sprinkle seeds and pepper over dough and bake 15-18 minutes or until edges brown. The crackers will harden as they cool and they're easy to burn, so keep an eye on them. Once cooled, break apart into desired size.

Variations:
Use the oil from a jar of sun-dried tomatoes in place of olive oil and add the tomatoes, chopped small, to the dough.
Use the brine from a jar of olives in place of water. Reduce or omit salt.
Use all whole-wheat flour and top with wheat germ.
Reduce water by 1 Tbs and replace with 1 Tbs soy sauce for more savory crackers. Reduce salt by half.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Xoconostle Jam


I base seasonality by what's available at my favorite Mexican-centric grocery store around the corner. Apples may be all the rage in New York right now, but I'm pretty pumped about the sour tunas from central Mexico. I'm going to be living in Boston by the next tuna season, so I'm going to can a bunch of my favorite tuna jam to take with me. Also known as prickly pears, tunas are the fruit of the nopale catus. The sweet ones that grown in Texas are a deep magenta (like red beet juice) and lovely, but I'm really in love with the sour ones, known as tuna agria in Spanish or Xoconostle for former Aztec region in Mexico where they grow. They're pale yellow and pink and not overwhemingly sour, just perfectly tart.

Tunas are high in soluble fiber and may help stablize blood sugar. Their pectin is being studied for its ability to lower bad choloestorol while leaving the good alone... I'm not saying this jam will cure what ails you, but it's great on toast or pancakes, so why not give it a shot?


Recipe: Xoconostle [Sour Tuna] Jam
Makes 4 half-pint jars
You can use other tunas (prickly pears) in this recipe. The sweet magenta ones have a beautiful color and much smaller/softer seeds, so you don't even need to scoop them out. All are rolled in big tumblers of sand after they're picked, but a few tiny spines may remain, which is why I always peel and rinse.

1.25 lbs tunas (prickly pears)
1 Meyer lemon, zest and juice
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups sugar

Peel and halve tunas, scooping out seeds. Roughly chop or pulse briefly in a food processor [don't puree as this will break down the pectin]. Combine tunas, lemon, water, and salt in a large saucepan over high heat until water begins to boil. [The saucepan may look too big, but we'll get to that.] Lower heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until water is mostly evaporated and tunas are soft.
Mash with a potato masher or ricer until the pulp is a fairly uniform consistency with only small chunks. Add 2 cups of sugar and raise heat to medium-high. Once sugar reaches a full rolling boil [it may look like it's trying to escape the pan], stir frequently for 10 minutes, scraping the bottom. Turn off heat.
Spoon a small amount onto a plate and stick in the refrigerator for a couple of minutes to cool. Check the consistency. It won't be perfectly smooth, but if the syrupy component is too loose for your tastes, continue boiling a few more minutes. If it's too thick, stir in a tablespoon of water [or tequila!].

Ladle into glass jars and refrigerate once cool.
or
Ladle into canning jars, being careful to wipe any jam from the rims before sealing. Bring water to boil in a 3/4 full large stockpot. Carefully lower the jars into the water with tongs, cover the pot, and boil for 7 minutes. Pull out and allow to cool. Lids will make popping sounds as they depress and seal. Store in a cupboard.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pizza Dough

By request.

Good pizza dough takes a while. There's no help for that. Think of it as a flat bread with toppings. You may think it's all about the cheese and sauce, but the crust--the flat bread--is a crucial flavor component. Bread takes a while. If it didn't, there wouldn't be an entire grocery store section devoted to mass produced (and often additive-laden) varieties for our convenience. It's not always expedient, but it isn't hard to make. Small children were once able to do this. It just takes a little practice, like tying your shoes. Once you get the hang of it, you don't even need a recipe.

That said, this is a recipe for the quickest way I know to make a decent pizza crust... and I've tried a lot of ways. It takes about 2 hours [most of it inactive for you while the yeast is working] and you can start this recipe days before or the morning of and keep it in the fridge, just bring it out a couple hours before you turn the oven on. The flavor comes from yeast development and fermentation, which is why great pizza places have dough going at all times. If you have a sourdough starter, it'll add a lot more flavor and you can still add the instant yeast if you want it to go faster.

If you think you might make pizza or any other bread more than once a year, this is well worth the ~$35 investment for a 14”x16” baking stone. [You can also throw the stone on the grill when it’s too hot to turn on the oven – May to October in central Texas.] A pizza peel is great, but a cookie sheet will work as well. Stretching the dough on parchment paper and removing it once the initial crust has formed (~7 minutes of baking) is significantly easier than flouring the bottom and praying it doesn’t stick when you try to slide it in.
Recipe: Pizza Dough

Makes 1 large, 2 medium or 4 individual pizzas
It's important to heat your stone completely; make sure you heat the oven to 450 degrees for thirty minutes before you start baking.

1 cup water, preferably distilled, warm but not hot (no more than 110-115 degrees)
2 1/2 cups flour, divided use, plus more for shaping crust
[use no more than 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour or more than 1/4 cup of rye flour]
1 teaspoon honey, sugar, or agave nectar
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (1 envelope) or 1 cup starter
olive oil (or cooking spray) for oiling bowl, plus extra for brushing dough
parchment paper
Toppings (below)

1. Turn oven on to 200 degrees for ten minutes, then turn off. You can do this while you’re measuring out things, just be sure to set a timer because you don’t want the oven to actually reach 200 degrees... yeast dies around 117.
2. Mix 2 cups flour, water, sweetner, and table salt in bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook on low speed until no patches of dry flour remain, 3 to 4 minutes, occasionally scraping sides and bottom of bowl. Turn off mixer and let dough rest at least 17 minutes for gluten formation.
3. Sprinkle yeast and sugar over dough. Knead on medium speed for 5 minutes until long strands form from the edges of the bowl to the hook (this is your gluten). Add remaining ½ cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough is glossy, smooth, and pulls away from sides of bowl, another 2-3 minutes. (Dough may only cling to the hook while mixer is on. When mixer is off, dough may fall back to sides.)
4. Coat a large bowl or stock pot with ~1 Tbs of oil, dump in dough and drizzle another ~1 Tbs oil over top. Flip dough over once so it is well coated with oil; cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place in warm oven until doubled in volume and large bubbles have formed, 40 minutes.
5. Remove dough from oven and turn oven on to 450 degrees. Turn out the dough onto a well-floured piece of parchment paper, dust top with flour and stretch it out to the desired size (or you can roll it out with a rolling pin. I won’t tell.). This will be a sticky dough, handle it gently. For a thinner crust, let it rest 10 minutes, then stretch it out further. If it tears, stop, squish it back together, let it rest, and avoid that area while stretching out the rest. [I also roll the edges over for a thin crust, just for something to hold onto in the final product.]
6. Brush entire crust with olive oil. This is also a moisture barrier to keep the sauce from sogging your dough. Add toppings. Drape with plastic wrap until oven is ready.
7. Slide pizza (with parchment) onto stone, pulling the peel back with a quick jerk. Bake 7 minutes or until crust is set, then insert the peel between crust and parchment and lift the crust enough to pull the parchment out. Continue baking until cheese is completely melted and starting to bubble and brown, another ~5-7 minutes.
Pizza Toppings
JG and I use some combination of the following ingredients; whatever’s on hand.
Pizza Sauce [with variations]:
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced or sliced
1 tablespoon of olive oil
3/4 lb tomatoes
or 3/4 lb tomatillos, husked and chopped,
or one 14 oz can of dices tomatoes or a can of Rotel with chiles,
or a jar of salsa: green, red, chipotle, whatever
salt & pepper to taste
red pepper flakes, oregano, basil, anchovy fillet or a squirt of anchovy paste (all optional)

Saute garlic until golden, add tomatoes or variants and mash with spoon or spatula, add salt and spices. Simmer until almost all of the liquid evaporates.

Or…
Mince garlic fine, sautee in 2 tablespoons olive oil, and use this oil on the dough before topping, sauceless.

Cheese:
Fresh mozzarella and parmesan are our primary cheeses (~4:1) and then maybe gruyere, or cheddar, or crumbles of fresh goat, or dollops of gooey bleu; no more than a cup total… super cheesy pizza is a waste of other good ingredients… but if you want that, use fontina. (Italian is better than Swiss) and a little parm.
Veggies:
The more the merrier!
Caramelized White or Red Onion. During ~20 minutes before kneading dough, thinly slice, toss with olive oil in a skillet over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until rest of pizza is ready.
Roasted Cherry Tomatoes or Bell Pepper Strips. During ~20 minutes before kneading dough, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, throw in a toaster oven at 275 degrees until rest of pizza is ready.
Shake pan occasionally.
Fresh Tomatoes, Onions, or Shallots. Slice them very thin so they’ll cook quickly.
Arugula. Peppery; scatter a couple handfuls on raw. Definitely top with cheese to hold it on.
Spinach. Good raw, better wilted. The leaves glop together, so you have to pull them apart and kind of smear them across the pizza.
Sun Dried Tomatoes. Chop into strips or dice. Use the oil in place of regular oil on the crust.
Mushrooms. We usually saute, but you can just slice them thin. Thyme and mushrooms belong together.
Olives. Kalmata or nicoise meld with the other flavors best, but assertive green olives have their place.
Basil. Whole leaves work if baked with toppings, scatter raw chopped basil after it comes out of the oven.

Meats:
Usually on top of the cheese so it gets a little crispy. Use sparingly if at all.
Prociutto. Our favorite. Keep a hunk in the freezer (a charcuterie no-no) and shave off maybe .5 ounce at a time.
Ham or Canadian Bacon. Slice thin, or dice and pan fry.
Pork, Lamb, or Chicken Sausage. Pre-cook and sliced thin or crumbled.
Pepperoni or Spanish (hard) Chorizo. Spicy. Slice thin.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Brown Rice Risotto

You can make risotto with brown rice. It's delicious. It's healthy. It's harder to overcook than arborio because you'll always have tooth from the bran, but it can be just as creamy. It takes a little longer so it helps to plan ahead a little, but you don't have to actually do anything for most of it... and if you have a pressure cooker* it goes even faster. It doesn't have to look as emphatically brown as it does in the pictures; that's just from my mushroom broth.***
Recipe: Brown Rice Risotto

You do need to find short-grain brown rice, generally Japanese, because long- or medium- won't give off the starches you need. I've been able to buy it at a variety of grocery stores; if it's not in the regular rice section it's usually in the pan-Asian section.

2 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cups short-grain brown rice [I use Nishiki brand]
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine or vermouth [don't use Martini & Rossi; their dry vermouth has an off flavor for cooking]
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock or broth [divided use]***
1 Tsb fresh herbs or 1 tsp dried [optional]
1 cup veggies [optional]
1/2 cup good Parmeasan, grated
at least 1 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper or to taste

Saute onions in a large pan, pot, or small Dutch oven over medium high heat until onions begin to become translucent ~5 minutes. In a separate pot or in the microwave, heat 5 cups of stock until steamy [near boiling]. Add rice, stir thoroughly to coat with oil and saute until they start to pop, another 3-5 minutes. [You'd usually cook the arborio until it becomes translucent but that doesn't work with brown rice.] And garlic and stir until fragrant, ~1 minute. Pour in wine or vermouth and scrape up any stuck bits [called "fond"] from the bottom of the pan.

Stir off and on until almost completely evaporated, then add 5 cups of stock and stir until it starts to boil. Add herbs, if using, cover pot, and reduce heat to medium low/low. Cook 50 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure rice is just barely boiling. Meanwhile, blanch or saute veggies, if using, and set aside.

As the time on the rice winds down, heat the remaining 1 cup of broth. Uncover rice. At this point, it should look fairly standard brown rice with a little extra broth... some of this is actually starch. Turn up heat to medium and stir frequently until broth is almost gone, then add 1/2 cup of the remaining stock and, again, stir until broth is almost gone. [At this point you may think you have a lot of liquid left, but most of it is your delicious risotto starchey goo. The way I tell is by scraping the bottom of the pan with a (heatproof) rubber spatula. The rice and goo should fill back in the space as one; if liquid fills the space before the rice, you've still got more to go.]

Add last 1/2 cup of stock, any veggies, salt, and pepper. Stir well, etc. Off heat, add the parm, stir to melt, and check for seasoning. Serve hot, topping with additional grated parm and cracked black pepper.
*If you have a pressure cooker, reduce total stock to 4 1/2 cups. Add 3 1/2 cups to rice after cooking down vermouth. Seal and cook at pressure for 20 minutes. Continue with directions above using remaining 1 cup stock.

**My favorite is to make a mushroom stock by nuking 1/2 an ounce of dried porcini mushrooms in 2 cups of water for 3 minutes. Strain out solids, mince, and throw back into stock. Add a tablespoon of soy sauce for extra umami and use hot water for the balance of the liquid component. This is great base for a variety of earthier risottos, but is fantastic with roasted or sauteed baby bella [cremini], button, or sliced portabella mushrooms as the veggie. Use thyme for this variation. Thyme and mushrooms are beautiful together.

***
You can use any chicken/veggie stock you like, just make sure it's something you'd be willing to eat as soup. You can also puree part of your vegetable component and add it to the stock at the beginning of the covered cooking time. This works great with asparagus. I puree the big fat ends for the stock and save the prettier tops to add at the end.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Whole-Wheat Pie Crusts...

...for all your Thanksgiving pie and quiche needs. This uses a great ATK discovery of alcohol for non-gluten forming flour hydration and it evaporates during baking, so you won't harm any children with it; and by completely combining the butter with half the flour, you get more even fat distribution for flakiness. Pro chefs I know look at me like I'm crazy when they see me make pastry this way, but it works. You can roll it out multiple times if you must and it will stay tender and flaky. I highly recommend using bourbon for pecan or pumpkin pie crusts and rum for meringues.

Recipe: Never Fail Whole Wheat Pie Crust



(makes 2 crusts)

I use a combination of whole-wheat flour and whole-wheat pastry flour, but you can use either/or. I also brown half my butter [and I use only butter... I did have olive oil trans-fat free shortening but it went bad. If you have some that's still good, feel free to sub ~4-8 tablespoons.]

16 tsb butter cut into med. dice
1 1/4 cup flour [ whole-wheat or all-purpose]
2 tsb sugar (for dessert crusts; omit for quiches)
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup pastry flour [preferably whole wheat]
1/4
cup water
1/4
cup vodka [or whiskey, bourbon, rum]

2 1-gallon Ziploc-type bags
1/4
cup flour for work surface

in a food processor:
Combine first 4 ingredients and process until it gets very clumpy or forms a ball. Add pastry flour and pulse to distribute. Add liquids and pulse until just combined. Divide evenly into 2 zippered bags and press each with the heel of your palm to form a cohesive disk [or dump into pie plate and pat into place!]. Refrigerate at least 20 minutes.

To roll out: Flour your counter or pastry cloth. Open the Ziploc and cut down the sides of the bag, pull away one side, and flip dough onto work surface. Roll out until at least 1.5” larger than the top of the pie plate. Fold dough over rolling pin to transfer to the dish, and gently push dough into bottom corners of the plate. With scissors, trim excess to no more than 1” and pop it back into the fridge to cool for ~5 minutes. Once it’s firmed up a bit, roll/fold the excess crust underneath, making the edge flush with the plate. Crimp edges or smash with a fork, peanut butter cookie style. Fill or parbake according to your recipe.
or by hand:
Pre-measure all your ingredients and set them around you (your hands will be messy and you won’t want to open any cupboards). In a large mixing bowl, combine first 4 ingredients and squish them together with your fingers until mostly uniform… a few blobs of butter are okay. Break dough into nickel-sized clumps and sprinkle remaining pastry flour over. With the heel of your hand, flatten out most of the clumps against the bottom of the bowl and toss with the dry flour. Sprinkle vodka and most of water over dough. Stir it around with your fingers and lightly squeeze it into the dough until you have a fairly cohesive mass. If the dough is still dry, add remaining water and combine. Divide evenly into bags and press each with the heel of your palm to form a cohesive disk. Refrigerate at least 20 minutes before rolling out as above.
Variations:
Brown butter -- in a skillet until the milk solids turn a nutty brown color. Pour into a small bowl and chill ~ 3 hours to resolidify. This will make for a very tender crust with much smaller flakes.
Spice -- add a tiny pinch of nutmeg and a bigger pinch of allspice to flour for dessert pies or finely ground black pepper and herbs (sage, thyme) for savory pies.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Watch what you eat.

A friendly reminder: Whole/stone ground/steel-cut grains and cereal meals do not keep indefinitely. They contain the germ which contains oils and they can oxidize and go rancid if left around too long in a warm environment like a kitchen. Either buy only as much as you'll use in a couple months, or keep it in the freezer.

Also: Cardboard containers like those for pasta and oatmeal are not airtight...
I almost got a little extra protein in my oatmeal this morning. I stopped to pour myself a cup of coffee and noticed that there was a lot of chaff rising to the top... and that the chaff had legs.

[I think it's a tiny weevil; that thing in the left corner is a rolled oat. Yes, I know steel-cut oats are better for you.]
__________________

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Panforte

Here's another holiday tradition; this one from Italy. The panforte is a result of the spice trade and combines Italian and Arabic dried fruits and citrus with honey, sugar, a touch of flour, and spices. The technique is very simple and the product is durable and endlessly adaptable. It's essentially a Crusades-era granola bar. They'll keep at least a month in the pantry and indefinitely in the fridge... just slice it thin when you need a nibble.

This year I made a curried panforte by adding tamarind in the syrup and curry flavors to the spices, a Manhattan one (since I had leftover components from my Christmas cake), and another more traditional blend... although I didn't have dried apricots so I threw in dried peaches instead. You could do all tropical fruits... you can also bathe them in a alcohol...
It's fun times with flavors!

Recipe: Panforte {strong bread}

A single recipe will nicely fill an 8" round cake pan, but you can also divvy them into smaller oven-safe ramekins or baking pans for gift giving purposes. I made each flavor in a different shape, just to differentiate them in my fridge.

1 cup dried fruit and/or candied citrus
1 cup nuts, lightly toasted
1/2 cup flour (acts as a binder, can be a low/no gluten flour)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp clove
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar (raw is great)

Rice flour for dusting (subbing other flour is fine)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease your chosen pan(s) and dust well with flour. Lining the bottom with parchment makes removal easier, but it's not required.

Chop fruit and nuts into chunks the size of raisins and combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour and spices, then toss with fruit mix.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar and honey. Bring to a full boil [240F] then turn off heat and pour in fruit/flour mix. Stir with a rubber spatula [careful, it's hot!] and spoon into your pan(s). Wet your fingers and press the mix into the corners/edges and smooth the top, then dust with flour. Bake 20-25 minutes or until the mixture starts bubbling around the edges and puffs up a little.

Remove to a cooling rack and cool completely. Run a knife around the edges, then turn out, pushing it back into shape if it gets mangled a little, then dust with flour. Douse with alcohol [if using], wrap in parchment paper, and refrigerate indefinitely. To serve, slice thin and dust with powdered sugar
_____________
Variations:
Traditional: figs, apricots, candied orange
, crystallized ginger, almonds. Spices as listed.

Curry: sultana, figs, dates, ginger, apricots
, crystallized ginger, pistachios. Add 1/4 tsp cardamom, cumin, garam masala to spices (or sub commercial curry powder for all) and tamarind paste to syrup.

Tropical: mango, papaya, pineapple, coconut, almonds. Sub 1/4 tsp cardamom for clove and nutmeg and douse with rum.

Manhattan: cherries, raisins, dates, figs, pecans. Reduce all spices by 1/2 and use rye flour. Add sweet vermouth to sugar/honey syrup and douse with whiskey.

Margarita: candied lime, citron, orange, almonds. Omit spices, add 1 tsp kosher salt, use 1 cup agave nectar for syrup. Douse with tequila.

Chocolate: cherries, raisins, dates, hazelnuts. Omit ginger and nutmeg and use cocoa powder in place of flour.

Any other ideas?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Maria's Manhattan Christmas Cake

Start now.

Fruit cakes have a bad rap, but the fact of the matter is they got so rich and crazy back in the day that the poor were only allowed (by law) to have them at holidays. It's loaded with dried fruit, rich cake, and fed alcohol to keep indefinitely. That sounds like my kind of cake... an über snack-cake. The problem with American fruit cakes is that they load up a bland batter with cheap candied citrus and those hideous glazed cherries and then give them a little sprinkle of rum or a corn syrup glaze loaded with commercial preservatives. If you don't want to eat the components individually, why on earth would they taste good together?

Last year, I went back to its English origins, [where they're called Christmas Cake] and decided to do a version of the Manhattan -- my favorite drink -- in cake form. This has all the really good dried fruit you actually want to eat.. cherries, raisins, figs, dates, and cranberries, soaked in quality cherry liquor and folded into a rich, vermouth-scented cake with a touch of rye flour and ground pecans.... then liberally doused in rye whiskey for 6 weeks. The result was exceptional. I took one to my parents' house for Christmas and my oldest friend's husband, an Englishman, said I made it feel like Christmas for him... so I let him take the rest home.
My batter was an amalgamation of several recipes and last year I incorporated whole-wheat flour into the cake, but left the butter alone. This year I found the nutritional information for a cake with a similar base and it was a little...obscene... so I swapped half the butter for non-fat yogurt and it worked great. This isn't the sexiest looking cake in the world, but -- just like its namesake -- after a slice or two you really won't care.

Don't worry Rupert, I made one of these just for you.
Recipe: Maria’s Manhattan Christmas Cake

This is a labor of love. I usually have almost everything required in my pantry, but I know buying all of these ingredients at once can really add up... but they're also why it tastes so good, so if you go to the effort, you should really go to the expense.

6 oz dried cherries
4 oz dried raisins
4 oz dried figs
4 oz dried dates
2 oz dried cranberries
4 Tsb cherry syrup
2 Tsb sweet vermouth
1 tsp Luxardo maraschino liqueur
water to cover
1/2 cup rye flour

1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tsb sweet vermouth
1 tsp Angostura bitters

1/2 stick butter, browned and cooled
1/2 stick butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten

2 oz pecans, toasted
1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp caraway seeds, crushed
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground ginger

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 small loaf pans with greased parchment paper and set aside.

Chop dried fruit into pencil eraser-sized pieces and combine with vermouth, cherry syrup and enough water to partially cover. Microwave 5 minutes or until plump, strain and spread on paper towel to dry. Meanwhile, brown butter and refrigerate to cool. [Alternatively, omit water/nuking and steep fruit stand in liquid overnight]

Chop dates and figs and place in a large lidded container with rye flour. Shake to coat. Once cherry mixture is mostly dry (sticky but not wet) add to date mixture and shake to coat, adding more rye flour if needed.

Combine pecans and whole-wheat flour in food processor, pulse to grind fine then combine with other flours and spices. Set aside.

Combine yogurt with lemon, extract, and liquors in a small bowl and set aside to thicken. In mixing bowl, cream butters and sugar until light and fluffy ~3 minutes. Add eggs in two additions, scraping bowl between. With mixer on lowest speed, spoon in about a third of the flour, then half of the yogurt, then half remaining flour, the rest of yogurt, and the rest of flour, letting each addition combine before adding next. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Return mixer to lowest speed and add fruit a fistful (or spoonful) at a time. Fold batter a few times with rubber spatula to make sure it’s all evenly distributed then spoon into pan loaves, pressing gently into corners to fill any air pockets, and smoothing the top. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, 1 hour or until edges darken and start to pull away from the pan or paper.

Transfer pans to cooling rack and sprinkle 1Tsb rye whiskey onto each. Once cool, remove from pan and peel off parchment. Wrap in fresh parchment then place in airtight container. Check every few days and baste with whiskey when dry, at least once a week for at least one month. Slice thin and serve with whipped cream, ice cream, or yogurt cheese.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mexican Chocolate Biscotti

We eat these daily. When we run out, I usually make more the same day. Sometimes I'll switch it up and make Sicillian biscotti with lemon and anise, or a hazelnut or almond biscotti if I've got nuts to spare, but the next batch will always be Mexican chocolate. The whole wheat flour contributes to the nutty, earthy, chocolate-ness without making them seem "healthy." This style of biscotti using only whole eggs for fat, makes a very hard cookie after the second bake [biscotti means "twice-baked in Italian]. I have made these by hand but the dough is pretty gooey, so by the time I stirred in enough to get everything incorporated it was a little overmixed and the resulting texture was more dense than usual, but still good. The chemical reaction between the soda and the chocolate helps the crumb immensely. They aren't so hard you'll fear for your teeth, but they do soften nicely when dunked in coffee. They can keep for months in a sealed container... but we always finish them well before that.

Recipe: Mexican Chocolate Biscotti

You can chop some of the chocolate and add it at the end if you want chunks... but you'll also have to wait a couple hours for the chocolate to set before you can cut them cleanly for the second bake. The sesame seeds and tahini add a great mole-esque flavor, but they're easily omitted. I've made these with honey, but the texture was off. You can also use all purpose flour for all or part of the flour mix.

4 oz Mexican chocolate squares (Popular, Ibarra, or the like -- or 4 oz regular bittersweet)
1
cup sugar
1
cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/3
cup Dutch processed cocoa powder
1 1/2
tsp cinnamon (add an additional 1t if using regular chocolate)
1 1/2
tsp sesame seeds
1
tsp baking soda
1/2
tsp baking powder
1/2
tsp kosher salt
1 Tbl tahini (seame paste)
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
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Set oven to 350 degrees F. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper or grease lightly.

Combine chocolate squares and sugar in a microwave save bowl and nuke 1 minute or until chocolate is soft, stirring every 30 seconds. Transfer mixture to a standing mixer. Whisk remaining dry ingredients in another bowl and set aside.

Add eggs and vanilla to sugar. Mix on medium speed until creamy, then add tahini and mix until combined. Switch to low speed and add dry ingredients a 1/2 C at a time; mixing until just combined. The dough will be very sticky, but resist the temptation to add more flour.

Spoon the dough into two logs 12-15 inches long and at least 1 ½ inches apart on the cookie sheet. Using saran wrap as a barrier, pat the logs smooth with your hands. Bake approximately 35 minutes or until log begins to crack along the surface. Transfer to a large cooling rack and cool for at least 10 minutes or cool enough to handle.

Turn oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Transfer logs to a cutting board. Slice logs on a diagonal 1/4” to 1/2” thick. (If you have a storage container in mind, it helps to measure your diagonal to it so they’ll fit inside.) Arrange slices on the cooling rack and place in the oven for an additional 20-25 minutes or until biscotti reach the desired crispness. (If you don’t have a large cooling rack, place on the cookie sheet and flip halfway through.)

The drier/harder they are, the longer they keep…up to a few months in an airtight container.



Thursday, November 6, 2008

Gulf Fritillaries -- a gluten-free post

These guys are definitely not edible. The Gulf Fritillary and other longwing butterflies live exclusively on passionflower vines as caterpillars... the plant that produces passion fruit. [Incidentally, the name comes from the flower's resemblance to the biblical crown of thorns; the fruit isn't an aphrodisiac.]
The leaves produce very small amounts of arsenic and the caterpillars absorb it and release it through their spines. Sometimes they're just orange and black, but sometimes they get fancy. This one even has striped eyes.

It's getting to be the end of the season for these guys. Just thought I'd share.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Whole-Wheat Pita

Before I move on to pastries, I have to share these whole-wheat pita from dinner last night. They're tasty and easy, and perfect for fresh hummus. The first batch ballooned perfectly, making great pockets...


...but there was one at the back of the oven that formed a bubble before it puffed up completely and somehow maintained the bubble even as the rest of the pita expanded, such that the bubble on top of the balloon was closer to the top of the oven [the hottest part of the oven] and got a little dark...

It was really... special. JG said it was "mam-tastic."

Recipe: Whole-Wheat Pita Bread

makes 8 6-inch rounds

1 1/4 cups warm water (not hot... less than 115F)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (or sourdough starter, but that's another post)
1 tablespoon honey (or agave nectar, sugar... sweet food for the yeast)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups whole-wheat flour, plus more for dusting (fine ground, I've discovered prefer Whole Foods store brand)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt (kosher or table is fine, just not chunky fleur de sel, it'll tear the gluten)

In a standing mixer, combine water, yeast, and sweetener. Let sit 5 minutes, then add oil and flour. Stir with a spatula until combined in a shaggy ball. Cover with plastic wrap or pot lid. Let rest at least 17 minutes, then add the salt and proceed with kneading. [Kneading can be done by hand.]

Using a dough hook, knead on medium speed (#3) for 7 minutes. After 4 minutes or so, the dough should wrap around hook and only stick to the center of the bowl. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let rest 20 minutes.

Turn out onto a well-floured pastry cloth or counter. Divide in half, then each piece in half again until you have 8 equal pieces. Roll into balls, pinching any seams together, then flatten the balls and roll out into 6 inch rounds, dusting lightly with flour if they stick either to the surface or the pin. Transfer onto parchment covered cookie sheets, 4 per sheet, dust again with flour, and cover loosely with plastic wrap to rise. Meanwhile, turn on the oven to 500 degrees. If you have a rectangular baking stone, put it on an upper middle rack. Once the oven comes up to temp, give it another 10 minutes or so for the racks and stone to get thoroughly hot ~45 minutes. By this time your pita should look puffy, but not huge.

Slide the first batch onto the stone or rack, pulling out the cookie sheet but leaving the parchment behind. Bake five minutes (the pita will take 2-3 to balloon), then pull pitas and parchment out with tongs. Stack pitas (if they haven't burst in the oven, they'll deflate
reluctantly) and give the oven a few minutes to warm up again before repeating with the second sheet.

Eat warm or cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Welcome

I know; you have all the food blogs you need. I have all the food blogs I need, too... and yet I keep getting requests from friends asking me for my quirky takes on traditional recipes. Sometimes I direct them to the site where I found them (thank you, Heidi) but more often I take the better part of an hour or an afternoon to sit down and type out what I do, why I do it, and what you could do instead. So, with the holiday foodie season upon us, I'm going to post Maria's Whole-Grain Pie Dough (super-easy, never tough, almost good for you)... instead of emailing it to each person who asks for it this year.

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