Thursday, February 26, 2009

Secret Ingredient

I was recently listening to a broadcast of
The Splendid Table (an excellent APM food show, you must subscribe to this), and the guest was talking about a trick she uses to spice up ho-hum dishes. It was coriander seed, toasted and crushed in a mortar and pestle (or between two dish towels under your smacking wooden spoon). She said it was particularly excellent sprinkled over potatoes, and having a stash of potatoes in my pantry--and half a bottle of coriander seeds lingering in the spice rack I received as a wedding gift three years ago--I thought I'd give it ago

And you know what, she was right! It has this grassy, lemony flavor that is just surprising enough to the palette (mine at least) to be intriguing, but not foreign enough to be off-putting. So, set a dry pan over medium heat and throw the seeds in. Shake them around till they're fragrant and you can see they're starting to turn color. Take them off heat and mash 'em up. Here's what we had for dinner afterward:

Sweet potatoes with feta and coriander
1 small sweet potato for each human you're feeding
1 oz feta, per potato
1-2 tsp toasted, crushed coriander seeds, per potato
Salt, pepper and olive oil

Wash potatoes and prick them all over with a fork. Wrap in plastic and microwave for 5 minutes. (Add 3 minutes for each additional potato). Stop the microwave and turn them over half way. When they're squishy, carefully remove the plastic, cut them in half and mash them a little with a fork, just to get some pockets for the goods. Drizzle a touch of olive oil and top with salt, pepper, and coriander. Sprinkle feta over top.

Our Daily Bread

Ok, religious punning aside, this is our go-to everyday bread. We recently became an all-homemade, all-the-time bread family once we realized how delicious the house smells for, like, the whole day after you make a loaf. And I'm not kidding when I say there is NOTHING in the world like that first slice. This recipe is a modification of the multigrain loaf from
Cook's Illustrated, which uses some all purpose flour (ours is all whole wheat). It relies on a multigrain hot cereal mix for its nutritional base. I happen to like Bob's Red Mill (either 7- or 10-grain) mix, but maybe you can find something you like just as much.

The trick to eluding brick-quality whole wheat bread is vital wheat gluten. It's a powder that I buy in bulk at my local health food store, but you may find it on the flour/baking aisle. Do NOT confuse it with seitan, a gummy mass of jaw-cramping meat substitute. If you can't find it locally, order some online and keep it in your freezer.

If you keep all these ingredients on hand, it is no effort at all to throw it together. But it does involve a good bit of waiting, so make it a weekend project, then eat the bread all week long

Multigrain Bread (adapted from Cook's Illustrated)
Makes one 9x 5 inch loaf pan

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp multi grain hot cereal mix
10 oz boiling water
2 Tbsp melted butter
2 Tbsp honey
1 1/4 tsp instant or bread machine yeast (they're the same thing)
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp vital wheat gluten
1 1/2 tsp table salt
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, pepitas, or other nuts of your choice
(I know there are seven grains in the cereal, but I can't resist adding extra stuff sometimes. For example, I threw in flax seeds and millet this last time for a nice crunch. Add caraway or fennel seeds for little zaps of flavor. Better yet, toast them first!)

1. Place the cereal mix in a large bowl and pour in boiling water. Stir and let sit (stirring occasionally) until the water is absorbed and mixture has cooled to lukewarm temp, about 30 minutes.

2. Stir in yeast, butter, and honey until well mixed. Stir wheat gluten into flour and add to grain mixture 1/2 cup at a time until dough comes together. Cover with plastic and let sit 20 minutes.

3. Add salt and knead until incorporated. With either your bread hook on the mixer or your own brute strength and inhuman patience, knead dough for about 8 minutes. Add seeds and knead until evenly distributed. Let the dough hang out for about 10 minutes.

4. Now, time to form a loaf. On a lightly floured surface (sprinkled with oats if you like that look on the outside of your bread), press the dough into a 10 x 6 inch rectangle. Rolling from the short end, make a cylinder of the bread, pinch bottom seam, and place in a greased 9 x 5 -in loaf pan. Cover in plastic and let rise about 40 minutes. (Two tricks to rising your dough: either microwave a cup of water for about a minute, then remove and immediately place your dough in and shut the door, leaving a warm, moist place for the yeast to work its magic. OR, turn your oven to warm while you are forming the loaf, then turn it off and place loaf in the now-warm oven. Just remember to take it out when you preheat to bake).

5. When ready, heat oven to 375º and bake for 35 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 200º. If you don't have a thermometer, just thump the outside. It should be stiff. Cool it on a wire rack (NOT IN THE PAN, or you'll have soggy bread). Be sure to cut and eat a slice while it's still warm.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Applesauce Granola

Part of the trick to eating low volume is stocking your shelves with things that have a reasonable life span--so you can take what you want when you want it, and leave the rest for later. Case in point: Granoooola!

This delightful recipe came from one of my favorite blogs, Baking Bites. There are a plethora of enjoyable recipes on this site, especially for frequent bakers. Here's a modified version of the recipe you can find there, which calls for puffed rice cereal. Sounds quite yummy to me, but I had none on hand. I like this granola because it uses applesauce for clumpiness, not oil, cutting back on the less-desirable fats (and leaving room for more good-for-you fats in the nuts).

Applesauce Granola
2 1/2 cups rolled oats (not instant, for pete's sake)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt
dash nutmeg
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup (unsweetened) applesauce
2 Tbsp cup maple syrup or honey
1/2 tsp vanilla
up to 3/4 cups chopped nuts of your choice
up to 1/2 cup dried fruit of your choice

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Mix together oats and spices.

2. Separately, mix together brown sugar, applesauce, syrup/honey, and vanilla.

3. Stir 1, 2, and nuts together and spread out on a big baking sheet. Bake 30 minutes, then carefully flip with a spatula. Bake 20 more minutes. Let cool on a rack--it will crisp as it cools.

4. When cool, break it up, stir in chopped, dry fruits, and store in a zipper bag, to be sampled in quantities large or small, big or tiny, by the handful or by the single oat. You can take it from there.

Cheesy Rice and Whatever-Veggers-You-Have Casserole

This strategy is great for whatever vegetables you have lying around that are about to go bad or maybe you don't know what to do with. Individual vegetables can be sooooo boring sometimes, but when put together ... what a creamy delight!

There are basically three ingredients to this simple meal: (1) vegetables, (2) grain: rice, quinoa, pearled barley, wheat berries, or some other whole grain of your choice, and (3) a creamy sauce. The key is portioning. When you're assembling the vegetables, just think about how many people you're cooking for (1 or 2), a handful of cauli, a couple of mushrooms, a few slices of onion will do it. You'll want to pre-cook your veggies. Here's what I did:

Veggies: 8 mushrooms, 1 cup cauliflower florets, 1 small leek, and a large wad of fresh spinach which wilted considerably.
Grain: 1/2 cup cooked wild grain rice
Creamy sauce: 1/4c sour cream, 1/4c milk, 1/2c grated cheddar
[extra--salt, pepper, and thyme]

First, cook the vegetables. Saute things like mushrooms, onions, leeks, garlic, summer squashes, peppers, spinach, and other quick-cookers. Steam or roast winter squash, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, celery root, carrots, and other dense, starchy veggies. Frozen vegetables, defrosted, will work wonders here. So will a trip through the supermarket salad bar. Add the spices of your choice to the vegetables while they're cooking.

Second, stir together the components of your sauce. Basically what we're doing is avoiding the introduction of Campbell's can-of-chemically-preserved-shelf-life. Ooh, you know what would be good? Cottage cheese or ricotta!

Third, throw it all together 1+2+3, slop it into a mini baking dish, and for a little crunch, top it with bread crumbs and a little more grated cheese (if you like).

Bake it at 350º for about 30 minutes, or until warmed through and a little bubbly. We sliced up an apple for a sweet, cool crunch, and called it dinner.

King Cake!

Full disclosure: nothing about the following recipe is divided, downsized, or in any way related to something you might consider "small." But oh my word, the cake! Or, to be more accurate, the French sweet bread stuffed with cream cheese goo and covered in colored sugar! It takes patience and plenty of Mardi Gras spirit, and if you have a
tiny plastic baby, it takes that too. But if you want to make brioche, here's what Peter Reinhart of the James Beard Award winning book, 'The Bread Baker's Apprentice' has to say. If I were to do this all over again, I would most definitely half this recipe:

Middle Class Brioche
('Middle class' as opposed to 'Rich Man's Brioche', also in the book, which calls for twice as much butter)

1/2 cup bread flour
2 tsp instant yeast
1/2 cup whole milk, lukewarm (90º–100º)

5 large eggs, beaten slightly
3 cups bread flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) room temperature butter

My additions to make it King-Cakey:
2 8-oz packages cream cheese, room temp
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla

2 oz cream cheese, soft
3-4 Tbsp milk
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
Colored sugars of yellow, green, and purple

1. First, make the sponge. Stir together flour and yeast, then add the milk, mixing till all is hydrated. Cover with plastic and let sit for about 20 minutes, till it looks bubbly and risen a little.

2. Once sponged, add the eggs and mix on medium speed (you'll need electric mixing of some kind for this beast) until smooth. Add flour, sugar, and salt, and mix on low speed until combined. What you now have is a giant lump of unmanageable muck. It gets worse, but then it gets better. Let it rest for 5 minutes to let the gluten develop. Then, cut the butter into 5 or 6 pieces, and add the pieces one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stop and scrape the sides down periodically. The dough will act like it is magnetically attracted to the paddle refuse to stay in the bowl at all (see right). Persevere. Keep mixing 5-6 minutes until the dough is well mixed and eerily soft. Seriously, touch it. It's weird.

3. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper and spray it down with oil. Turn the dough out and pat into an 8x6in rectangle. Cover in plastic and let it hang out in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.

4. Remove from fridge and, working while it's cold, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll dough into a super long and skinny rectangle, let's say 6 inches wide and about 30 inches long (yes, that's almost three feet). Mix the ingredients of the filling together and spread evenly along the rectangle. Roll one long 30-inch side over to meet the other 30-inch side and pinch it tight, so you have a long, skinny cylinder. Pull the two ends around to meet each other and pinch those shut. Place the ring on a greased baking sheet, seam side down. Cover it in lightly oiled plastic.

5. Now, in your oven where it is quiet and dark, put this baking sheet for 1-2 hours, and leave it alone to rise until at least doubled in size. Then, take it out, preheat the oven to 350º and stick that sucker back in. Bake it for about 25 minutes.

6 Remove from oven and cool on a rack AT LEAST one hour (if you can restrain yourself). Now comes the fun part. Mix up the icing to a pourable consistency and drizzle all over the cake. Cover with so much sprinkles you can barely see the cake underneath. Then eat it by golly, EAT IT!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Chocolate Pavlova with Low Fat Chocolate Mousse

So, inspired by Martha's latest spread on the glory of egg whites, I ripped a couple of pages out of 'Living' and tried my hand at a mini version of her Chocolate Pavlova. Because the chocolate filling called for approximately 20 yolks and because I had neither heavy cream nor whole milk on hand, I thought I'd just swap out the filling for a low fat chocolate mousse recipe I had saved from a 'Cook's Country' some time back. First, you must start with the mousse.

Low Fat Chocolate Mousse (courtesy of Cook's Country)
2 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped up (a hershey's dark from the check-out line works well for this)
2-3 Tbsp white chocolate chips or chopped bits
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa
3 Tbsp water (plus another 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup sugar
1 really large or 2 medium egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar

1. Place the chocolates, vanilla, cocoa, and 3 T water into a small saucepan. Melt over VERY LOW heat just until you can whisk it all together without any major bumps. Transfer to a large bowl, and let it hang out to cool.

2. In another small saucepan (or the
one you've just used, washed out), place 1/4c sugar and 1/4c water. Over medium heat, bring to a boil, and boil until slightly thickened and large bubbles rise to the top, about 4 minutes. It should look something like that (-->). Take off heat and cool a bit.

3. In yet another bowl, beat the egg white(s) on medium low speed until frothy. Add cream of tartar and increase speed to medium-high, until you get soft peaks. [This means, when you take the beaters out, there is a soft mound left behind: not stiff, but definitely there.] With the mixer running, stream in the syrup, trying to keep it away from the beaters, so you don't lose your syrup in a losing battle against the ricochet spin-action. You will never win. Once the syrup is all in, pump up the jams to high and beat until the meringue is thick and shiny, about 2 more minutes.

4. Finally, pour about 1/3 of the meringue into the chocolate mixture and whisk to combine (that's right, I said whisk). Add the rest of the meringue, mix it up good, cover it in plastic and let it sit a long, long time. At least 6 hours or overnight. It will last 4 days if you want to do it a while. Now, for the pavlova....

Martha's recipe "serves 8–10", so here's a smaller version:

Chocolate Pavlova (courtesy of Martha Stewart Living)
2 egg whites, room temp
2 Tbsp brown sugar (dark, if you like)
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp white sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp cocoa powder

1. Preheat oven to 300. Line a baking sheet with parchment and draw a 6-inch circle on it. Flip the paper.

2. Mix egg whites, sugars, and salt in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly, until sugars are dissolved, your arm is cramped and you have given up on wanting the meringue altogether, about 3 minutes.

3. Remove from heat and hit the eggs with an electric mixer (med-hi) until you get stiff peaks. [This means, when you lift the beaters out of the whites, they leave a little mountain behind, like so...] Beat in the vanilla.

4. Sift the cocoa powder over the (now) meringue and fold until barely any streaks remain. Folding can be tricky: the thing to remember is that you want to preserve all those little air bubbles you just made by whipping the egg whites. Scrape around the outside of the bowl, folding in toward the middle. Be patient.

5. Spread the meringue into your parchment circle and make a well in the center with the back of a spoon. Bake until dry to the touch, about 1 hour. Turn off the oven and let it hang out until it's cool in there, another hour more.

To assemble:

It is quite simple. RIGHT before you're ready to serve, slather the mousse into the pavlova and sprinkle with a little powdered sugar or get fancy with some chocolate curls. Crunchy and chewy, plus deeply chocolate--it's a winner.