Sunday, June 27, 2010

Friday, June 25, 2010

peanut butter cookies (repost)

I made these when I was home this winter, lots of time on my hands. The original recipe is from Kalyn's Kitchen, which, by the way, is an amazing source for south beach friendly recipes. I didn't plan on changing the recipe but alas, we were out of baking powder! So I used a wacky substitution I found on line, but they turned out so moist and delectable that I'm going to make them that way every time now. What's so amazing is not just that they're good, but that they have zero flour and zero sugar. They do, however, have agave syrup, but feel free to substitute your sugar substitute of choice.

Flourless, Sugar-Free Peanut Butter Cookies
(Makes about 25-30 small cookies, recipe adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen.)

1 large egg
slightly less than 1/4 cup agave syrup
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup creamy natural peanut butter (no sugar added)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Beat the egg, mix everything in, adding the peanut butter last. It ends up looking sort of like cake batter. Spoon it onto a silicone cookie sheet for easy removal later, and then into the oven for about 12-15 minutes. They end up sort of a cupcake-cookie hybrid in my opinion, and they are highly addictive, so beware. I think Kalyn's original recipe yields crunchy cookies, but I don't know if I can ever stop making them this way long enough to find out.

Our sweet boyz decided to help with the photo shoot:

Boyz: Oh look at us, we are so good, we love you so much, we will do whatever you tell us, pleaseohpleaseohplease can we have some cookies?

Milo: What was that?! Did they move?!

Nikki: I'm ... just ... going to ... slowly ... look away. It's ... a sign of ... respect. She'll understand ... and give me ..... cookies.

Milo: Screw this, she's never giving in. I'm gonna go lick my bear.

Nikki: Right, so just stay like this. It's working. Keep that foot up, don't look at her or the cookies, it'll totally work. You've got this. Don't let the foot drop, don't waver in your intentions. The little one's gone, they're all gonna be yours. Stay focused, but act casual.

(originally posted on Nomadic D.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

asparagus time

I want to eat as much asparagus as I can while they're in season, and I love them with mushrooms. And I'm still trying to use up the Pixies.

Saute chopped onions in olive oil and remove from pan. 
Saute mushrooms in the oil until they smell rich and earthy.
Add the onions back.
Add asparagus, cut into 2" chunks, and sliced red bell peppers. 
Season with salt and black pepper.
Cook until the asparagus is the consistency you like. I like a bit of crunch.
Drizzle with pomegranate molasses. 
Top with slices of peeled Pixie tangerines.

Monday, June 21, 2010

looks pretty, tastes not so good

A while back, I bought a big box of pixie tangerines out of curiosity. They're quite good but definitely not mind-boggling. I think perhaps their major claim to fame is their size. They kept very well so far, except that in the last week or so they started to look dry and shriveled up. When you cut into them, they still taste good. But if shriveled I must unshrivel.

I parboiled them in plain water, cut them in half, stuffed the centres with a walnut piece and cream cheese. Layed them cut side down on silpat and poured caramel over them. Pretty.

Too bitter, though. The pith was super thin and I thought parboiling it would take care of whatever bitterness there was. Didn't work out. I had just made three to test, and ate them anyway because I had missed caramel so much. I know, I know. White sugar. But really, give me a break. I made the caramel with less than two tablespoons of sugar and it was so worth it.

ruth bourdain

This cracks me up every time. And the RuBo picture is genius.

Friday, June 18, 2010

it shouldn't have worked, but...

I was going to feed the pet but I'd run out of AP flour and went out to get some. Back at home, I saw that I'd bought the white whole wheat flour (KAF) by mistake. Didn't even know such a thing existed. Read up on it at the King Arthur web site, and they recommend using it for cookies, muffins, etc., but there's no mention of breads. Not good. I looked into it a bit more, and it's a low protein flour, which is why it wouldn't be good for bread. But I was curious, so I separated some of my sourdough starter and fed it with this flour. Fermenting seemed OK, but it didn't rise much. Not a surprise. I fed it a few times more, decided it was time to try to bake it into bread. I incorporated some bread flour into it and let it rest about 40 minutes. After the autolyse, it looked very wet. So I added some more bread flour, until it was a respectable soft dough consistency. Folded it twice at 45 min intervals, then put it in the fridge to develop overnight. Next day I divided it into two, formed smallish boules, and let them proof in baskets lined with kitchen towels. After a couple of hours they were pouffy, but hadn't risen much. It looked like further proofing was not going to help. (How do I know this? I have no idea.) My oven was already preheated to 500 F with the baking stone in place. I didn't want to risk placing the loaves directly on the peel, because they still seemed not sturdy enough. So I lined the peel with parchment paper before I up-ended them. Sure enough, in 5 seconds, they looked like ciabatta. Not very hopeful, I stuck them into the oven. There was almost no oven spring, but again, it's not surprising given the qualities of the flour. I let the loaves cool overnight and cut into them the next morning. Surprise! They were not bricks. In fact, they were quite light and hole-y. And they weren't too sour. They looked and tasted better than most store bought 'artisanal whole wheat'. Definitely edible. Not nearly good enough, but definitely edible.

I'm confused. Low gluten flour, therefore not much rising, but still pretty good crumb. Shouldn't it have been dense and heavy? What do I know.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

real lamb

What passes as lamb in the US is mutton. Big, ripe-smelling, heavy. I'd never found a local source for real lamb, meaning baby lamb, until a few days ago. I was shopping at Trader Joe's and found a package of frenched, trimmed rack of lamb from New Zealand. I wasn't very optimistic but of course I couldn't resist trying it. I cooked it last night, and I think my food life in the US changed forever. THANK YOU TRADER JOE'S! I don't care if I sound like a commercial, I'm really grateful.

No pictures, because it was night and I don't have an adequate light source for photographs, so I'll just describe it.

I seasoned the rack with salt and black pepper and seared it in a pan. Then I covered it with a mixture of minced garlic, coarse grain mustard, a bit of balsamic vinegar, a bit of pomegranate molasses, and some smoked paprika. Stuck it in the preheated very hot oven until poking it with my fingers told me it was medium. Let it rest for 15 minutes, which was hard, because it smelled like heaven. Then I cut into it with guarded anticipation and lo and behold, it was unbelievably tender and tasty. Yeay! I think the taste was a bit more neutral than the lamb we get in Turkey, but I'm not complaining. I started off my dinner with half the rack, and then couldn't resist and finished the whole thing. I know I'll make more trips to Trader Joe's now.

And I forgave Trader Joe's for selling some crappy stuff (like the inedible Manchego), and the less then stellar fresh fruits and vegetables. Now my list of TJ favourites includes the lamb in addition to the dried pitted sour Montmorency cherries which I can't find anywhere else.

Another positive note: I remembered not to grab the handle of the saute pan with my bare hand when I was taking the lamb out of the oven. I don't always remember.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

today's lunch

For some reason, it no longer seems like a hassle to make lunch for myself. So today, roasted asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, and walnuts. Topped off with fried eggs for protein, and shaved slices of Manchego.

The little convection toaster oven makes it fast and easy. I roasted the salted asparagus and shiitake with a drizzle of olive oil, and added walnuts for the last couple of minutes.

I've been cooking a lot with nuts these days, because it makes me feel like I've eaten a full meal when I'm staying off carbs.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

sunday joy

About a month ago, my husband and I started Sunday Brunch. We're calling it a family tradition, even though it's just been a few times and it's just the two of us, but we figure, that's how things get started, right? I try not to make the same thing every time, which in reality means adding different things to my pancakes. I can't not make them, because they are never not amazing. What can I say. I'm kind of a pancake genius. But I have to give credit where credit is due, and point you to this recipe, which I use almost exactly, except for the vanilla (and only because I can't find any in this city), and I find I have to add a wee bit more agave syrup. But otherwise, this is my holy base. Here's how I do it:

1 c whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
a few generous squirts of agave syrup
1 Tbs olive oil
1/2 c skim milk
1/2 c non fat plain yogurt (or sweetened if your husband buys it by accident)
2 eggs

Mix the wet stuff. Add the dry stuff. Ta-daaa! So simple. I also find that the batter keeps nicely in the fridge for a few days, which is pretty awesome when you get up at 8 monday morning too sleepy to think about breakfast and find you can just drop some of this in a pan and you have a delicious wholesome pancake breakfast before class. The batter sort of changes color, turns blueish, but I think I read somewhere that that's some kind of chemical reaction having something to do with baking soda. I do my research, but that does mean I retain the results. In any case, I still use it even if it's darker, just give it a stir and don't show it to anyone who might be paranoid about things going bad (ahem, husband).

I've made them with blueberries, fresh from the Mercado de San Miguel which is thoughtfully open on sundays. I've made them plain for people to throw nutella and whipped cream on top. I've also made them plain accompanied by a banana/strawberry/walnut salad/sauce which I will have to post about another day. But this past week, I made Cinnamon Banana Walnut Pancakes. And yes, they were damn good.

You would like to try? Make the batter as usual, and then in a separate bowl, combine sliced up bananas, crumbled walnuts, and cinnamon. I like to keep the extras separate so that when I use the leftover batter in the following days I can make whatever kind I want and am not tied to Sunday's Flavors.

When you scoop a bunch of batter with your ladle, drop a large spoonful of the nutty mix in it and give it a swirl to better disperse the cinnamon. Drop it in the pan (a little oil for the first one, which always turns out a little sad anyway) and cook it like you cook all pancakes. You know, wait for the bubbles, wait for some of the bubbles to pop and leave holes, wait for the edges to dry up a little, flip it and then let the second side sit much less. The whole wheat does seem to take longer than regular hotcakes, but it's worth it.

More Sunday Brunch posts to come, I promise. And a special thanks to my sweet hubby who took these awesome photos.

Monday, June 7, 2010

my afternoon snack

I love roasting vegetables simply, and I do it frequently, with many different kinds of vegetables. This is one of my favourites. Sometimes it's my veggie to accompany my dinner, sometimes (like today) it's a quick fix when I'm hungry in the middle of the afternoon.

Roasted cauliflowers with walnuts

Separate the cauliflower into fleurettes. Place on a baking sheet, sprinkle it with salt and red pepper (always assume I use Aleppo pepper, the red kebab pepper of Turkey, unless I say otherwise), drizzle with olive oil. Roast until almost done. Add walnuts to the baking sheet and continue to cook for two more minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with lemon juice. Easy, tastes great, and is super healthy.

Roasted vegetables lend themselves to variations. Try it with different spices, different nuts, combined vegetables, etc. I make mine in my counter-top convection oven, and it's ready in about 10 minutes.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

i have a plan

And my plan is to leave the house for a couple of days. Go somewhere, anywhere. When I return, I expect my kitchen to be spotless and all signs of disaster gone. You know, the kitchen elves.

Here's my couche with most of the goo already scraped off. I'm hoping the rest will come off when drier.

Everything in the shape of a bowl, including stainless steel bowls, plastic containers, baskets, the plastic colander (used as a banneton, 'cause I'd thrown out all my bannetons some years ago), was put to use in desperation. Not that it helped. What you don't see is the floor, the pile of stuff in the sink, dough stuck to every surface.

Let's start at the beginning. I'd been distracted from making bread for a week. A week ago, when trying to snap out of my bread paralysis, I winged a sourdough loaf again. Basically, I was experimenting with techniques that I'd never used or heard of in my previous bread-baking life eons ago. One was making a stiffer dough than I used to, another was the 'stretch and fold' method instead of kneading, and yet another was proofing the bread in the refrigerator and taking it straight from the refrigerator to the hot oven. This is what resulted.

Not bad, but not terribly good either. Nice 'grigne'. Too sour for my taste, and not enough oven spring. But I love the non-violent stretch-and-fold method.

Then I took a week off and didn't even think about bread. Two days ago, it was time to go back. I took out my neglected starter and started to feed about half a cup of it as starter.

The rest, I thought I'd experiment with. Hubris. I started building up about a cup of it.

Then  I wondered what would happen if I did something to the rest without fussing too much. Added whole wheat flour to get it going, then divided that into two. By the evening, everything seemed to be bubbling up nicely. Put it all in the refrigerator and went to bed.

Yesterday morning I took everything out. I'm now looking at four containers with stuff in it and trying to remember what's what. The starter-to-be-revitalized was easy, it was the smallest amount. I fed it, and put it away.

The batch I was building up looked good. Decided to attempt a loaf with it. To keep things straight, let's call that one 'pathetic hope.' It was very wet, so I fed it with more bread flour than water or starter. Did I measure anything? Hell no. That would be so unadventurous. Then I started to stretch and fold it in the bowl it was in. Here's how it looked before the folds.

Here's how it looked after the second stretch-and-fold. Looks promising. See how much smoother?

Then I added salt, and folded it two more times with 45 minute intervals. Looks good, is rising well. It's beautifully stretchy, better than anything I achieved when kneading by hand.

OK, so now it's time for proofing. Clearly, the dough is too wet to shape into anything. I have two choices. Add flour and start again, or proof it in a container. The second seemed easier. I put my well-floured couche into a bowl, put the dough into it and waited. 'Cause bread pans are for sissies, right? I waited for it to rise.

It rose some, but not a whole lot. First sign that the future might not hold success. But it was springy, and I thought I'd continue.  In my previous life, my doughs were always on the soft side, and I proofed them on a flat surface, transferred to a peel, and put them in the oven. So this time, I thought I'd up-end the bowl onto the floured peel, remove the couche, stick the 'bread' into the oven.

Here's the start of the hilarious part. I turn the whole thing upside down on the peel, take off the bowl, and ooops! The dough starts to flow on the peel. Really, it can only be called 'flowing', not 'spreading.' I start to panic and try to be quick. I try to lift off the couche. I know I'm in trouble because the part of the couche that touched the bottom of the bowl looks very wet. Sure enough, half of the dough is stuck to it. I try to scrape it off. What am I thinking? No way. Now I'm panicking to the max. I look at the goop that's on the peel, and decide to scoop it into a bread tin. Why am I not giving up? 'Cause I'm stubborn and I'm thinking 'who knows..?' The oven is already preheated to 500F. I stick in the bread pan and wait.

After about 40 mins, I remove it. Looks like crap. For some reason, the center of the pan does rise a bit. The rest not much. I was too proud to take a picture, but I'll describe it for you. A brick. (I'm thinking the function of bread pans is to form bread into shape of bricks.) I peel off the crust. The crumb is wet and compact, with few holes. I dunno if this can be called crumb. It still looks and feels like dough, frozen in time. I taste the crust - unbelievably sour. I throw it all out. End of 'pathetic hope'.

But there's more hope. I still had the batch of starter that should have been thrown out. With half of it, I quickly tried sourdough pancakes. Way too sour. Inedible. That gets thrown out.

The second half, which shall be called 'stupid hope,' I decide to go for a loaf. I build it up some, then give it a number of folds, and it's not looking bad at all. You might ask at this point, dear reader, if the pancakes were inedibly sour why would I think this bread might end up tasting good? Well, it's called 'stupid hope,' isn't it? The truth is I didn't care. I was just curious.

And there's an important lesson here. What makes a good scientist does not a good baker make. A baker needs to be an applied scientist, not a research scientist.

When it comes to final proofing, I remember that I forgot to add salt. Ah jeez. Add salt and fold, it all gets deflated, and I continue with giving it extra folds. Eventually, it rises some. I turn it out on the table, and add a lot of flour when shaping it, because this dough is also very wet and I don't want to repeat the disaster with 'pathetic hope.' Going for a different kind of disaster.

It holds its shape. I want to proof it directly on the peel. One side of the peel is stuck with the mess from before, so I turn it over, put down parchment paper, put the dough on it, cover it, and wait. Not much happens. By now it's getting late, and I'm starting to lose patience. Reality takes over. I know nothing good's gonna come out of it. So I transfer it to the oven. When it comes out of the oven, I don't care too much any more. I wait for it to cool, and this is what it looks like.

It has the semblance of bread, but it's clear that it hasn't risen enough. And it's way too sour. Into the trash it goes. I go to bed wondering why I spent the whole day doing this.

There, is however, a plus. You can use the dough as a fly catcher. Potentially useful discovery.

I wake up this morning and I know that my mission today is to understand everything that went wrong. Actually, let me start with what went right. The stretch and fold. The gluten develops beautifully.

Now to the bad stuff.

Dough too wet: This happened because I didn't fold it on the table with my hands. If I had, I'd have realized immediately that it was too wet. So that's how I'm going to do it until I'm comfortable with the feel of it, and then go back to doing it in a bowl. 

Too sour: When feeding the starter, keep a smaller amount of of the old starter. Keep starter strong. Start baking when the starter is at its peak, or almost at its peak. When building it up for baking, use ratio 1:4:4. Keep bulk fermentation much shorter than I've been doing.

Not enough oven spring: Don't overproof.

Finally, even if you're not going to follow recipes, it really pays to listen to other bakers. There are so many great bread sites and personal blogs that it shouldn't be a problem. Here's a baker's blog that was very informative for me, where Susan gives us two excellent quotes:

For reckless adventuring: People who work in family planning have an aphorism: Hope is not a method. 

In defense of adventuring: “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” –Thomas Edison

I'm taking today off. I'm not even going to clean.