Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Spring" in Yankee Land

This is what spring looks like so far in Yankee Land:
There are buds on the the trees, but still no leaves. We've had a two or three days where the sun came out and the entire city came out en mass and removed most of their clothing [I have never seen so much pasty white flesh in my life.] For the most part, though, it's been nothing but rain... cold, cold rain.

I'm told this is warmer weather and last year there was snow on the ground until April, which actually makes me wish it was just a little colder. I can't believe I'm saying it, but so far I think I prefer winter to spring up here in Yankee Land.

I'm also doing my best not to pay any sort of attention to the weather in Austin right now... that might be depressing.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Whole-Grain Chocolate Almond Biscotti

I realize I have a biscotti problem -- obsession, really -- but once I gave up coffee I haven't been able to commit to a single flavor. The latest batch were from Joy of Baking, and I followed it pretty closely [except for substituting 1 cup white whole wheat and 3/4 cup oat for the called-for A.P. flour] but I had a little timer problem:

I didn't realize it until I was sitting at the computer and a toasty smell wafted toward me. I looked at the clock, then ran to the kitchen, half-expecting to find biscotti charcoal. They were deeply brown around the edges but just shy of burned, which actually gave them an amazing roasted marshmallow-esque flavor. I'm making a note to add another 15 minutes to the second bake on this recipe. [I think it was actually closer to 20 but they were just a shade away from the trash can, so it's best to undershoot and monitor, know what I mean?]

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cream Cheese Cookies, FYI

It is not a good idea to substitute 8 oz. fat free cream cheese for the same amount of butter in a butter cookie recipe.  The dough seemed fine and I thought the poppy seeds and orange zest would compensate for the diminished butter flavor.  They ended up... biscuit-y.
 They're edible, but they're not good.  What's the point of that?  Back to the test kitchen...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pesto Pipián

This recipe was born of an excess of cilantro. Like many people -- and despite growing up with lots of Mexican food -- I had an aversion to cilantro until I discovered late-night Vietnamese food in college. [Houston has the second largest and most diverse immigrant population after New York, did you know that?]

I now love cilantro, but really doesn't keep well and I got a _lot_ of it at an outdoor stall in Boston's "Haymarket," a place known for cheap produce with a very short (2nd?) shelf life. I used some cilantro for salsa and meant to put on some tacos but forgot, and the rest -- the vast majority-- sat unused and unloved, taking up valuable real estate in the refrigerator.
So, JG and I were discussing what to do with the excess cilantro over a dinner of homemade green-chile pork burgers* [on homemade buns, of course] that also happened to leave excess ground meat.

JG: "I wonder what cilantro pesto would taste like."
WGT: "We should find out."
JG: "Agreed."
WGT: "Ooh! You know what I think we should make for our leftover meat?"
JG: "Cilantro pesto?"
WGT: "Pipián! -- but pesto would be good too..."
Then we nodded at one another for an inappropriate length of time before finishing the burgers.

I should explain that pipián is a pumpkin seed [pepita] sauce loosely related --and sometimes identical-- to mole verde and can be made a million different ways. There's usually garlic/ cilantro/jalepeno/chicken stock and some combination of onion/almond/tomatillo/romaine/cornmeal/sour cream/cumin all pureed together and cooked in oil, but the only universal requirement is ground pumpkin seeds.

A pesto sauce, on the other hand, usually uses an herb, garlic, nuts, cheese, and olive oil. The ratios are a little different from a pipián sauce, but pipián's a pretty loose recipe, so why not use pesto ratios (to use up my cilantro) and replace both nuts and cheese with pumpkin seeds?
So...  I started to rethink my idea as I watched my bountiful greens shrank to tiny specks with half of the called-for oil... but I ostensibly had another 1/4 of oil to add.  A pesto uses roughly equal parts nuts/cheese to olive oil because it, unlike pipián, is not meant to be generously slathered on things; it clings with its oily goodness. I didn't want a coating; I wanted a meatball sauce. I opted to use water for the balance of the volume. It made a lovely green sauce the consistency of a sour cream dip(!). It took quite a bit more water put me in perfect meatball sauce territory [and those meatballs were very, very tasty*].
A few days later -- and hopelessly addicted -- I made more pesto pipián using canola [rapeseed] in lieu of olive oil. This time, without the assertive EVOO, the surprisingly delicate flavor of the cilantro brightened the earthy pepitas and it was even better. We tested it over chicken tacos, and that's was when JG and I agreed that this sauce may very well be my greatest culinary achievement to date.

Recipe: Pesto Pipián
I included recipes for tacos and meatballs below, but this sauce has lots of possibilities, like topping poached fish, seared scallops, or enchiladas, or roasted veggies... or the most amazing dip or crostini [topped with seared onions?] your friends ever had. I've now tried it with both pepper options, and I think I prefer the serrano for a little more bite, but to each his own.  If you only have a small chopper/food processor, just add the cilantro in batches; it shrinks quickly.

2 packed cups cilantro (1 large bunch), thicker stems removed
1/2 cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup canola oil [or other neutral oil]
3 cloves garlic, roasted or nuked
1 green chile or serrano, roasted and seeded
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cumin
3/4 cup water or chicken stock 
Combine all ingredients except water in a food processor and puree until almost smooth, occasionally stopping the machine to scrape down the sides. ~3 minutes. Add water and pulse to combine. [It'll splash.] Store in a airtight container for up to 5 days, or freeze.

Chicken Tacos with Pesto Pipián:
serves 4

1/2 recipe pesto pipián
1 1/2 lbs chicken, cooked and shredded
1/2 onion, slice thin pole-to-pole
12 corn tortillas
1/4 cup crumbled fresh cheese [queso fresco, feta, etc.]
hot sauce

In a sauce pot, sear onions over high heat until just translucent with charred spots. Transfer to a small serving bowl. Using same pot (no need to wipe it out), heat sauce until it starts to sputter. Stir in cooked chicken and turn off heat. Serve on warm corn tortillas with onions, cheese, and hot sauce.

Basic Meatball Recipe with Pesto Pipián:
serves 4

1/2 recipe pesto pipián
2 lbs ground meat (any, really: pork, beef, lamb, or poultry)
1 pureed onion
1/3 cup milk
2 cloves garlic, minced to a paste
1/2 tsp salt

Beat everything together in a mixer until it gets almost pasty. Pan fry a tablespoon of the meat to test for seasoning, then let the remainder sit at least 30 minutes and up to 2 days before cooking(in a refrigerated, airtight container).
Cook meat over medium heat, turning to brown all sides, until cooked through, ~10 minutes. Transfer balls to a bowl, add 1/2 cup water to pan and scrape up all the browned bits to deglaze. Add pesto pipián stir to combine with deglazing water, and return meatballs to pan. Cook until sauce comes to the boil and thickens to its original state. It's excellent over brown rice or polenta.

*no pictures, sorry.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Oranges and Olives

I'm going to be honest. This post was inspired by my trash. I leaned over to spit the pit of an oil-cured olive into the trash -- one of those step/flip top things -- and got an intense hit of orange from the peel on the top of the pile.
[Yes, I know these things could be composted. I used to compost everything in my backyard, but I have no backyard now and the City of Cambridge doesn't sponsor household composting. What's a girl to do?]
The olive in my mouth and the orange in my nose was an intriguing combination.It wasn't unlike the marinated olives you get at bars that're sometimes served warm with bits of zest, but orange-ier and super salty. [Oil-cured olives are actually salt cured until they get all shriveled, then stored in oil.] I'm trying to come up with an appropriate dessert to highlight the combo, but this salad dressing is a nice stop-gap.
If you've never supremed [soo-PREM-d] an orange before, it's not hard, but it does take a sharp knife and a little patience. If you don't work work in a restaurant, there is absolutely no need to be fast at this... though a little practice will make you feel like a pro. [There's also an alternative after the jump.]

Recipe: Oil-Cured Olive and Orange Salad Dressing
It's not absolutely necessary to supreme the orange at all; removing the membranes lets it meld with the other flavors better and ensures you don't get any pithy flavor, but you can also chop the segments into smaller pieces after you peel it carefully. I think this recipe would work well with other olives. Green olives, for example, would make something completely different but could make a great side salad for some kind of tomato-y main dish like chicken Veracruz or lasagna.

1 orange, supremed*
1/4 cup oil-cured olives [variations welcome], pitted and sliced or roughly chopped
1 Tbs olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp coriander
4 cups salad greens [large leaf greens like lettuce should be chopped into 1/2" squares]

Squeeze any remaining juice from the orange membranes into a large bowl.  Slice orange segments into 1/2" wide pieces. Stir together oranges, olives, oil, and spices with any juice in the bowl.  Let sit ~5 minutes before tossing with salad.

*Supreming an Orange:
Cut the top and bottom off the orange so that it sits flat and you can see how thick the pith [the white part] is. Use a curved downward motion to completely remove the pith in one strip, if possible.   Cut all the way around the orange, then flip it over and clean up any spots you've missed.

Now hold the orange in your hand.  Slice as close as possible to the membranes between each segment, starting with the side nearer you and then the far side, all the way to the center.  The segment should fall onto your knife, but it's good to have a cutting board or bowl to catch any strays.
It's easy, see?

[Thanks to JG for the camera assist!]

Saturday, March 13, 2010

How is this possible?

How is it possible for my bananas to be both green and brown? This has happened with every bunch I've gotten for a least the last month.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Whole Grain Bagels

It was just a little chilly in the apartment the other night, so after dinner I decided it was time to turn on the oven.... for bagels.

I've never made them before. Peter Reinhart has a recipe floating around foodblogs that I'm sure is fantastic, but it's a multi-day process and I wanted something to bake posthaste... I found a home-style recipe that used a one-hour rise and decided if that could still produce an identifiable bagel, I could tweak it for whole grains and flavor.They're excellent. They came out of the oven much softer than a standard bagel, and the one I cut while it was still warm gave off a lot of steam and was still so moist inside I wondered if my slap-dash recipe was off, or if you're just supposed to wait until they cool [and finish cooking from the inside] before you cut them.
The next morning, sliced and toasted, I experienced bagel nirvana. The outside was perfectly crisp, the toasted cut side nice and crunchy, and the interior was so soft. I'm not going to say they're authentic, but they were pretty darn tasty... and who wants to boil and bake before breakfast? I think I'll keep my nighttime recipe and enjoy my ready-to-go bagels the morning after.

Recipe: Whole Grain Bagels
These take about 2 hours start to finish, mostly hands-off. I used 1/2 sourdough starter for extra flavor but the rise came from the instant yeast... you can approximate the flavor by adding a tablespoon of Marmite [or Vegemite] or replacing the water with a lager beer like Budwiser, Narragansett [for the Yanks], or Lone Star [for the Texans].

For the bagels:
1/2 cup rye flour
1 1/2 -2 cups white whole wheat flour, more as needed
2 Tbs oil
1 Tbs sorghum [or barley malt, or molasses]
3/4 cup warm water or lager [~110F]
1 Tbs + 2tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt

For the boiling water:
2 Tbs baking soda
1 Tbs sorghum [or selected substitution]
2 tsp salt

For baking glaze:
1 egg white
1 Tbs water
optional black sesame, white sesame, poppy, caraway, or celery seeds; onion or pepper flakes; garlic or kosher salt; or any combination thereof

Combine all bagel ingredients except salt in the bowl of a standing mixer. Stir by hand ~1 minue until all flour is hydrated. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 17 minutes for gluten formation.

Add salt, attach dough hook, and mix on medium low (#4) for 7 minutes. After 5 minutes, check the dough and if it doesn't pull away from the sides, add additional flour, 2 Tbs at a time, until it does. The dough will be tacky, but it shouldn't be sticky [or: it'll be clingy, but it should stick to itself more than you... is that better?].

Coat a bowl with non-stick spray. Transfer dough to bowl, spray top lightly, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled ~1 hour.

Turn on your oven to 500F. Punch dough down [I love punching dough] and scrape onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 8 equal pieces (~3 oz each), and roll into balls. Poke an index finger through the middle of each ball, wiggle it until you can get your other index finger in from the other side, and tumble your fingers one over the other to stretch the hole evenly* to a 2" diameter [the ones pictured were a bit bigger]. Cover with a light towel or plastic wrap and let rest 20 minutes.

While formed bagels are resting, find the widest pot you own** and fill with ~2" of water. Add soda and sweetener and bring to a boil. [Turn down to a simmer if it gets there well before the bagels are finished resting, then turn back up when they're ready to go.] Place a parchment-covered or oiled baking sheet as close as possible.

Gently drop 3-4 bagels into the water. [Don't go much over half full, they'll expand quite a bit.] Boil on one side for 2 minutes, then use a spatula to flip them over and boil another 2 minutes. Transfer to the baking sheet and repeat with remaining bagels. [They will look soggy and sad, but that's perfectly okay.]

Once all the bagels have been boiled, brush with egg wash and coat with desired toppings. Transfer to the oven and bake 10-12 minutes or until nicely golden brown, rotating the pan after 5 minutes.

Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely before slicing and toasting.

* Try it, it'll make sense as you go.
** I imagine you could use a roasting pan over two burners, but I haven't tried it.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dutch Letters -- Almond Bankets

Here's another Iowan delicacy for you: The Dutch Letter. It's an artifact of Dutch settlers in the area, an almond pastry called "banket" that was once reserved as a holiday treat and often spelled out "Merry Christmas" [in Dutch] or a birthday celebrant's name: the "letterbanket". In Iowa, it's simply called a "Dutch Letter" and found year round in certain bakeries in the shape of an "S." [I guess it was the prettiest of the stand alone letters?]I loved these things as a kid and always asked my grandmother to bring them with her on their annual visits to Texas. I hadn't had them in years until I recently came across her recipe and made them for my uncle, a fellow almond pastry lover. They're not nearly as intricate as they were in my memory. You roll out a pastry dough (pie dough) cut it into strips, lay a log of almond paste down each strip, roll it up, and bake it. The fact that pie dough now comes in the freezer and almond paste now comes in tubes makes it even easier, if you like shortcuts.

However, I believe that easy is often less tasty and definitely less economical... Almond paste in a tube is about 50% ground almond, 50% sugar+ binder+ preservatives+ bitter almond, and costs $7.99 for 8 ounces at my grocery store, which -- if you generously allow $.50 for the sugar and preservatives -- means you're paying $30/lb* for ground almonds. Yes, they're blanched almonds but a) my whole grains add flecks and bits to everything anyway, so pure white almonds are almost antithetical to my baking aesthetic and b) blanched almonds still only cost $6/lb, tops.

Grandma Sue's recipe calls for adding sugar and eggs to the almond paste to make the filling, and I discovered I could use whole almonds (at $4/lb), toast and grind them with sugar, add egg and extract, and the resulting filling was a little less sweet and tasted even better.
[Love you, Grandma!]As for the pastry, you can certainly use your favorite pie crust recipe, but I tinkered a bit and came up with a whole-grain version that uses half the butter of a regular pastry recipe and added ground almonds to boost the flavor. [Yes, it's adding some fat back in, but it's different fat.] It's slightly less flaky, but the nuts and oat flour make it an extremely forgiving, richly flavored dough.

Recipe: Dutch Letters -- Almond Bankets
There's a total of 1 pound almonds used three different ways. I made these as 2-inch sticks for JG's lab; you can make them much longer and shape them in whatever form appeals. You can also make much heftier pastries by not dividing the dough and using all of it to fill a single baking sheet and piping the filling twice as thick... just be careful to seal the seam. The almonds on top are not traditional, but rather pretty and give the pastry an extra crunch.

4 oz almonds, toasted (~2/3 cup almond meal)
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 egg

In a food processor, grind almonds and sugar until very fine and clump together, ~2 minutes. Add egg and extract and process until smooth. Scoop into a ziploc-style bag and chill until ready to shape pastry.

1 cup oat flour
2 oz almonds, toasted* (~1/3 cup almond meal)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
6 T butter (3/4 stick or 3 oz.) [optionally browned and cooled]

1 c white whole wheat flour
2 T butter, diced and chilled
1 T amaretto
1 T vodka
1 T water

flour for dusting
1 egg
2 oz sliced or crushed almonds [optional]

Combine first 6 ingredients in a food processor and grind until almonds disintegrate ~2 minutes. Add wheat flour and pulse until distributed, then add chilled butter and liquids. Process until dough forms cohesive mass [small chunks of butter may be visible], divide in half, flatten into disks, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 20 minutes. [Depending on your oven, you may want to start heating it now.]

Set oven to 425F.
Remove filling and dough disks from fridge. [If dough is hard, wait ~5 minutes until pliable enough to roll.] Cut parchment paper to fit your baking sheet, dust with flour, and roll out one disk to ~ 12"x15" or the size of the sheet. Use a straight edge and pizza wheel or knife to cut along the length of the dough in 4 equal strips. Use your baking sheet to transfer the cut dough back to the fridge to firm up while you repeat with the other disk.

Using 1st sheet, cut ~ 1/4" -1/2" corner off of the filling bag and pipe along one edge of the strip. Roll the dough along the length and pinch/flatten seam underneath. Shape each log into letters or cut each into 5-6 equal pieces.

Topping Option 1:
Beat egg, brush over top of pastry and sprinkle with sugar

Topping Option 2:
Beat egg, add almonds and stir to coat. Scatter almonds down the length of the logs [fingers are easiest] and sprinkle sugar over all [use fingers from the other, non-gooey, hand].

Bake 18-20 minutes or until egg wash is golden brown. Check in the last couple minutes to make sure optional almonds are deeply toasted but not burned. Transfer to a cooling rack and break pastry at seams once cool enough to handle. [The crispy filling globs that ooze out and stick to the sheet are what I like to call "baker's pay."]

Assemble 2nd sheet while the first sheet is baking. Store in an airtight container.

*Updated: My brain originally refused to compute the full extent of the price gouging and I erroneously stated that 40z of almonds for $7.50 equaled $15/lb. 1 lb=16oz, so the paste costs ~$30/lb for the blanched almonds.

* *Toast raw almonds at 350F for 5-10 minutes [it varies] or until they sizzle and start to pop. Small black spots where they touch the pan are okay, but if they smell burned at all you've got to start over.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chunky Egg Salad

I don't know about you, but I love big chucks of egg white in an egg salad sandwich. That toothiness in the midst of the creamy goodness always makes my mouth happy.
Sometimes though, when people chop the whole eggs and then add the dressings, the egg whites get obliterated in the attempt to break up the yolks. There is a very simple solution to this, one that also makes your egg salad thick enough not to squish out the back of your sandwich on the first bite.

Recipe: Chunky Egg Salad
Have I told you how much I love Coleman Mustard? I don't know why it's different, but it's quite unlike other yellow mustards I have known.

4 eggs (divided use)
1 Tbs white vinegar

2 Tbs mayonnaise
2 Tbs chopped dill pickles (these were carrot*, cuke works too)
1/2 tsp Coleman mustard (whole grain or yellow will work)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp celery seeds
1/4 tsp black mustard seeds
1/8 tsp black pepper

Add eggs and vinegar to a small sauce pot and completely submerge with tap water. Cover pot, bring to a full boil, and immediately turn off heat. Let eggs sit in the water for 10 minutes, then drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and cool for the next step, ~5 minutes.

Peel the eggs and rinse off any shell bits. Break whites into large chunks in one bowl and reserve entire yolks in another. Add remaining ingredients to the yolks and mash with a fork until texture is uniformly thick with no yolk clumps. Fold in egg whites and use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container.

*Growing up, my friend's mom filled dill pickle jars with carrot slices once the last pickle was gone. After a week or two in the fridge, they take on the vinegar and brine flavors, but also impart a little of their own sweetness. I loved those things, clearly, and now I do it myself.