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.

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.
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.