Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Breakfast Worthy of Birthday

A Breakfast Worthy of Birthday

My ideal birthday is very low key; nobody wants an energetic extravaganza between Christmas and New Year's. The weather gave me a great gift in the first real snow of the season. My gift to myself was this big, elaborately sloppy plate of huevos rancheros that forces you to abandon silverware and eat it with your hands.

If you want to play along at home, here's a breakdown:
  • Pan toasted flour tortilla (little olive oil in the pan on top of whatever flavor was left from the onions)
  • Sweet onion, sauteed with magical spice blend
  • Black beans with chipotle powder and garlic
  • 2 eggs cooked sunny side up with cheddar cheese on top (cooked with cover on), sprinkled with salt, pepper, and hot, smoked paprika
  • medium salsa
  • sour cream
  • mixed greens
  • half a perfectly ripe avocado, sprinkled with salt
Bonus birthday gift from my cast iron skillet: being able to cook onions, tortilla and eggs in it successively without having to clean it before (or after!) any step.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Snappier Ginger Snaps

All my favorite winter weather dishes come from hot climates: Spicy coconut curry, robust moles. I understand the theory of spicy foods for hot climates: that it causes you to sweat which, in turn, helps you cool down. It just happens to make just as much sense in a situation where it can't heat you quite to the point of sweating. Maybe, to the point of taking off a sweater.

Why should savory foods have all the fun, though? Even sweet foods that should be spicy aren't. Consider gingerbread: if you eat fresh ginger, candied ginger, or the right kinds of ginger beer, it will, at the very least, tingle your tongue a bit. However, your average gingerbread cookie doesn't have anywhere near the bite of fresh ginger. When it comes down to it, you're simply not going to get that flavor from ground, dried ginger. So, I decided to call in reinforcements. My mom, in her baking days, let me in on her trick of using black pepper in her her gingerbread. I decided to raise the stakes to red pepper. I brought the first batch into work, and I had some folks declaring them the best gingerbread cookies they'd ever had and some running for the water fountain (I dialed down the chili powder the next time I made it).

This recipe is a variation on the the crinkle cookie - a sticky dough rolled in sugar, the sugary crust crackling as the cookie rises and spread. There are many schools of thought on thought on this type of cookie. Some recipes are built around whipped egg whites and a suspicious number start with boxed cake mix (?). Even more basic enough is the question of butter or vegetable oil. Many of the butter-based recipes (including an intriguing brown butter crinkle cookie) use it melted, so it comes down to a matter of flavor vs. convenience. You can make either of these recipes with butter instead, but increase to ¾ c. (1½ sticks).

Crinkle cookies are a great go-to when you have a burning need to make cookies - as happens - but are out of butter or don't have time to let butter soften (or if you're serving someone who can't have dairy).

Actually Spicy Ginger Crinkle Cookies

adapted from Megan Applegate's Nana's Recipe (which wasn't quite so spicy)
  • ⅔ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ c. molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup sugar (+ 2-4 tablespoons for rolling)
  • 2 teaspoon gr. cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoon gr ginger
  • ½ tsp gr. clove
  • ¼-½ tsp. gr. chili (I used chipotle)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°
Whip oil, molasses, sugar, egg to creamy. It will still have a loose texture, but will emulsify some. Add spices and beat on low to incorporate. Add baking soda, salt, flour and mix on low to blend.

If you're patient, you can stick the dough in the fridge for an hour and it will stick to your fingers a little less. If you don't mind a little cookie dough on your hands, barrel right along. Roll into walnut-sized balls (~1" diameter), roll in granulated sugar, place on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake at 350° for 10-13 minutes. They will seems very soft when they come out, but resist the urge to put them back in. If you bake them until they feel firm, they will be too hard and dry when they cool off. Feel free to experiment with what time/size combo works best for you, but this arrangement gets me lusciously chewy cookies.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Everyone Wants a Piece of Falafel

Falafel is kind of a beloved sore spot in the pervasive Palestinian/Israeli culture war. 2005's Oscar-winning short film, the comedic musical West Bank Story imagines the feuding parties of its source material as competing falafel joints: the Jewish-run Kosher King and the Arab-run Hummus Hut. When Larissa Sansour and Oreet Ashery, British-based artists of, respectively, Palestinian and Israeli origin, put together a project to examine the Israeli adoption of Palestinian culture and where the line between adoption and appropriation lies, they conducted it through interviews in London falafel restaurants and named it Falafel Road.

In fact, taking it back a step, you could probably teach an engaging and fairly comprehensive course in the history of the Middle East based entirely on the chick pea. Although some archaeologists speculate that the legume in question was first tamed by people living in northern India, the oldest archaeological evidence of cultivated chick peas comes from Tell El-Kerkh, in Syria, which date to the late 10th millenium BCE. The oldest evidence of the chick pea in Israeli/Palestinian territory dates to only about 1500 years after that (still over 10,000 years ago), at a site near Jericho in the West Bank.

However one might wish to, you can't infer falafel from the presence of chick peas, and foods like that don't preserve as well over time as dry beans (partially because that would require leftovers). So we'll skip ahead just a little to another important event in the history of falafel: the foundation of the state of Israel in the mid-20th century. A large influx of people and a shortage of meat pushed cheap protein like beans to the forefront for everyone in the region. Joan Nathan, author of Foods of Israel Today credits the contemporary, chick pea-based form of falafel to Yemeni Jews. Nathan claims that local falafel recipes in the pre-Israeli period tended towards a blend of chick pea and fava bean (also called broad
bean), as do many Lebanese falafel recipes. The local push away from fava beans, she argues, came as a result of Kurdish and Iraqi Jewish immigrants, many of whom suffered from favism, a serious, genetically-based enzyme deficiency that makes fava bean consumption (among other things) cause severe anemia. Local Palestinians claim that the only change to falafel is the Israeli flag on a toothpick stuck in it. Aziz Shihab, the Palestinian-American author of the cookbook A Taste of Palestine, wrote to a falafel-slinging Israeli restaurant in the States, "This is my mother's food, this is my grandfather's food. What do you mean you're serving it as your food?" Interestingly, yet a third claim on the provenance of falafel maintains that it was developed by Coptic Christians in Egypt for Lent, during which many Christians traditionally abstain from eating meat. Egyptian falafel, which they usually call tamiyya, is typically made entirely from fava beans rather than chick peas. Susan Molthen, executive chef of Bay Area Egyptian restaurant Al-Masri says, "Every region, city or country in the Middle East has it, but it's all derivative; they put their own spices and flavors into it."

I'm not going to try to make any conclusive claims about who originally invented the falafel; food is an artistic pursuit that demands an essential tension between the established and the subtly innovative and at the same time is a projection of culture deeply tied up in people's sense of identity. The truth is that it belongs to all of these people, but that their attachment to it doesn't make it belong to the others any less. It's yours if you make it, too, but significantly more so if you start with a bag of chick peas than if you start with a box of falafel mix. Because all of the many claimants can agree about that being an abomination.

The process isn't hard, given a little forethought and a food processor; it requires overnight soaking of dry chick peas (or at least several hours), but the process from there amounts to throwing everything in the food processor and buzzing it into a grainy paste, rolling it into balls and, finally, frying them. Deep-frying is traditional, but you can squash them into patties and pan-fry, too. Beyond that, all it requires are a few accoutrements: flatbread, fresh vegetables and tahini sauce. I also included some pickled radish after reading a number of recipes that suggested pickled vegetables, most commonly mango or turnip. Additionally, you can freeze the mixture uncooked, after rolling it into portioned balls: lay raw falafel on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper or plastic wrap, cover lightly and freeze until the falafel is frozen enough to hold its shape. Transfer to a freezer bag, then pull out a couple at a time as you want them.


Falafel

vegan, optionally gluten/grain-free
makes 15-20 falafel
  • 1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked
  • ½ large onion or 1 small onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
  • ¼ c. rough-chopped fresh parsley (a small handful)
  • ¼ c. rough-chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½-1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 4-6 Tblsp bulgur* (optional)
  • oil for frying (I fry in ½-1" peanut or canola oil in a cast iron skillet on med. high heat)
  • *Gluten/grain-free advisory: Bulgur is a wheat product. It adds a really nice texture and is nominally there to aid in binding the falafel, but many traditional recipes are totally grain free, so feel free to omit this if you don't eat it or simply don't have it.

To soak the chick peas, you can either set them up the night before or start an hour or two before you want to serve. Put the chick peas in a large bowl or pot and cover with 2-3 inches of water. You can let them sit overnight or bring them to a boil for 2-3 minutes, turn them off and wait an hour or two. I've gotten better results with the overnight soak, but the expedited soak works fine if you decide you need to eat falafel today and give a far better result than canned, cooked chick peas.

Drain and rinse chick peas, prep ingredients as indicated and grind in food processor to a grainy paste. Roll into balls about 1½ in. in diameter (may require squeezing to hold together). Heat oil in pan over med-high heat until a little water sizzles and pops aggressively and put as many balls of falafel as you can at one time into the pan. I typically use my smaller, 8" cast iron skillet to do this. It fits 8 or 9 at a time, as they can be pretty close together, and uses up a lot less oil than do the larger pans I usually think of first. Fry until deep brown on one side, then turn. Drain on newspaper or paper towel. You can also put in just enough oil to coat the bottom, flatten the balls a little and fry them that way. It's not quite the same, but somewhat more practical if you're only frying up enough for one or two people.

The Sides

yogurt-tahini sauce:

  • 1 c plain greek yogurt (used 2% milkfat)
  • 1/4 c. tahini
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 5-6 mint leaves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c. water

Tahini Sauce:

  • 1/4 c. tahini
  • Zest & Juice of 1 lemon (or 3-4 Tblsp. bottled lemon juice)
  • 1/4. c. water
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • optional:
  • ½ tsp. hot smoked paprika
Both of these also make great vegetable dips. In fact, it's worth cutting up some extra veggies and putting them out with the sauce for diners to munch on while they're waiting for their falafel.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

This Bread Repels Hurricanes

In the days leading up to the northern landfall of Hurricane Sandy, we were put on high alert. Around here, it didn't end up exceeding a rainy day in March back home on the hill in Vermont (which still entails 40+ mph wind gusts), but given the several unprecedented qualities of the storm, particularly its size, it seemed unignorable. I suspect many locals were dragged into the memories of the storm exactly a year previous that dumped a foot of wet snow and left folks (including us) out of power for days or weeks. We prepared for this storm to make up for how we didn't prepare for that one. Perhaps, looking at those less than a hundred miles south of us who were out of power for over a week and those within 200 miles that are still suffering the effects, it was wiser to over-prepare. The governor pre-emptively declared a state of emergency and asked all schools to stay closed on Monday. So we did.

What else do you do with a day off and the thought that you could be out of power (and thus unable to cook) for a few days, but make sturdy bread? This bread starts with a multigrain porridge, adds a variety of seeds from sunflower to cumin and just enough flour to give the dough enough body to make a loaf. The loaf is dense; it lacks the well-developed gluten structure to create the large, irregular air pockets typical of artisan bread. However, this denseness also means that the bread takes a longer time to go stale, and not just because it's harder to tell. Moreover, the density of grains and seeds in a slice mean that it's also more nutritionally dense and satisfying. If you're going to be eating the same loaf of bread for a week because your stove doesn't work, this is a pretty good one to be stuck with.

We didn't end up losing power for more than two minutes during the day, but, then again, I was happy to have this bread for the week with electricity. The bread is good with just peanut butter, jam or cheese, but it's at its best toasted.

This is less of a recipe and more of a general schema; I don't know that I've ever made this exactly the same way twice. I used to make it more frequently when I used to eat multigrain porridge more regularly. Ironically, that very folksy food became less practical for daily consumption and slipped off the menu after I ditched the microwave (or, more specifically, stopped living with the roommate that had one). The combinations of grains and flours depends on what I have and what I feel like at the time. Common features are brown rice, steel-cut oats, buckwheat, barley and wheat berries. I also have a multigrain hot cereal blend with flaxseed from the bulk section at the co-op that I top things off with.

Breads containing intact or cracked whole grains typically start with a soaker. A soaker is slightly different from a hot cereal: instead of cooking the grains with water, you pour boiling water over them and let them sit for several hours or overnight. This softens the grains so that you don't end up cracking your teeth on them, but leaves their shape largely intact. It also helps activate some of the enzymes that break down the complex sugars in the grain to simpler ones, making for a more flavorful bread. Cooking the grains all the way lets you cram even more of them in, as the water in the cereal makes for most of the water of this very wet dough. By weight, this dough has more water than flour. A typical sandwich bread dough has about 60% as much water as flour by weight. A baguette has 70-75% as much water as flour. This has about 110% as much water as flour (though I'm not the first do acknowledge that breads containing whole or cracked grains make for uncannily wet baker's percentages). A well-hydrated dough also makes for a boldly crusty bread.

Like many good bread recipes, this one takes a lot of time start to finish, but very little active time. It makes it an excellent project for a rainy day, or, as it were, for a rainy and windy one.

Bonus: Get Pumped up to Bake!

The bread that French baker Vincent Talleu is making in his video is completely different from this one, but he exhibits such joy in baking that it makes a good watch to get you all pumped up to make bread of any kind.

Porridge Bread

vegan, makes two moderately-sized loaves or one very large loaf

    Soaker:

  • 4 c. cooked grain (1 c. dry grain : 3 c. water)
  • 1 Tblsp. whole cumin
  • 1 Tblsp. whole caraway
  • 1 c. nuts & seeds
  • 1 Tblsp. kosher salt
  • Sponge:

  • 1 c. water
  • 1 Tblsp. active dry yeast
  • 1 c. flour
  • The Rest:

  • approx. 6 c. mixed flours
Begin by cooking the grain. Take a cup measure and fill it with whatever whole/cracked grains you have available. In this batch, I have teff, short-grain brown rice, farro, barley and a multigrain hot cereal including flax seed. Put it in a large saucepan (at least 2 qt) and add 3 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then turn to low and cook for another 20 minutes or so. If you're doing this the night before, you can bring to a boil and then simply turn off the heat and ignore it until the next day. If you're doing this same day, after cooking let the grain cool enough to touch (2-4 hours, though you could speed this up by putting it in the fridge and stirring occasionally). It can be warmer than room temperature, but shouldn't feel hot, as this could kill the yeast.

When you're ready to actually make the dough, start a sponge. The sponge is the wake up call for the sleeping yeast. Put a cup of lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl (this will accommodate your whole dough later) and add in the yeast and one cup of all-purpose or bread flour. Mix with a wooden spoon until it has a smooth, consistent texture. Set aside until it starts getting bubbly, about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, get out your cup measure again and fill it up with a blend of nuts and seeds. I really like sunflower and sesame seeds, but have been known to include walnut pieces or slivered almonds. You can put in less of this or none at all without it changing the recipe significantly if you have dietary restrictions or have no nuts or seeds hanging around, but it really adds a lot to the bread. Add the seeds, salt, cumin and caraway seeds to the cereal in the pot and stir together. Again, if you don't have or don't like cumin or caraway, they're not essential, but I really like them. The salt, on the other hand, is important to controlling the rise of the bread and less negotiable. I typically include the same volume of salt as yeast, but if you're worried about salt you could get away with 2 teaspoons instead of a whole tablespoon.

Add the seed/cereal mix to the sponge and stir until well-blended. Begin adding flour, a cupful at a time. This is another place where you have some flexibility. You'll add about 6 cups of flour in this stage, but what kinds are up to you. It should be at least half varieties of wheat flour (i.e., white, whole-wheat, semolina, atta/chapati flour), but for the rest of it, go crazy with whatever buckwheat, rye, spelt, etc. flour that you have. Start by adding a cup of flour and stirring in one direction with a wooden spoon until well-blended. Stirring in the same direction helps the gluten develop. Continue mixing in the bowl with a spoon until the dough starts forming a ball and wanting to stick to itself more than the bowl. Flour a clean surface and turn the dough out onto it. Flour your hands and start kneading, adding more flour as the dough incorporates the flour and sticks to the kneading surface again. When the dough starts developing a smooth, coherent surface and stops wanting to stick to everything so much (not fewer than 5 cups of flour but not more than 7), load it back into the mixing bowl to rise. You can clean and oil the bowl, but it doesn't make a huge difference. Cover with a towel and leave in a spot slightly warmer than room temperature to rise. The heavy dough will take 70-90 minutes to double in bulk.


Once the dough has risen, flour your work surface again and scrape the dough out onto it. Knead the dough a few turns to push out the air. If making two loaves, divide dough in half with a bench scraper or large knife. For each loaf, fold the dough over several times and then form into a boule (French for "ball"). This video demonstrates how to form your dough into a boule far more efficiently and effectively than I could explain it in words. Note that the baker in the video finished by placing the boule into a basket to proof. Basket proofing is essential for helping a wet dough like this one keep its shape during the final rise; otherwise you risk having a thin, flat loaf. Luckily, one does not need purpose-designed baskets for proofing (mine, pictured farther above, weren't). Any small basket that you don't mind getting a little floury can be lined with a clean sack-cloth towel (woven, not terrycloth!), floured thoroughly and used for proofing. Others have had success lining a colander or even a bowl with a floured cloth and using it for a proofing basket. Baskets and colanders have the advantage of letting the dough breathe a little more, but a bowl will do in a pinch. For more info, this discussion thread contains several people's descriptions of their improvised proofing baskets. The dough's second rise will take somewhat less time (45-60 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 450°F. When oven is ready, turn loaves out onto a parchment or cornmeal/semolina-lined sheet pan or onto peel to load onto pizza stone. Slash the top of the loaves with a razor or sharp knife. For two loaves, bake for 45-60 minutes; for one large loaf, bake for 55-70 minutes. Bread is done when the crust has browned and loaf sounds hollow when you knock on the bottom.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Butternut, Coconut, Curry-nut?

Apparently, this has turned into the squash blog. Realizing this would be my third subsequent squash post, I almost posted about something else. However, the following things occurred to me:
  1. These are three quite different squash recipes, illustrating the versatility of the vegetable.
  2. Who would come here who doesn't want to hear more about squash‽
In my last post about squash-filled profiterole, I went on, possibly at too great a length, about why roasting a bunch of squash and keeping it in your fridge is a fabulous idea. I won't repeat myself, but it is; consider this recipe Exhibit B in the case. A rich, satisfying dish that balances sweet and savory, this contains a complete protein when you add rice and happens to be vegan, gluten-free and nut-free (the coconut, despite its name, does not affect those with tree-nut allergies).

As long as you already have roasted squash, this curry comes together in no time flat - about 20 minutes at the outside. Although I sometimes recommend forgetting to start the rice until well into cooking a dish to give you an incentive to let something simmer longer, this is a dish where you want to make sure to start the rice ahead of the other dish so you won't end up waiting on the rice.

I used a smallish (probably 2-3 lb) butternut squash for this dish, but other varieties of winter squash will also work. To roast squash, halve it, scoop out the seeds and place on a lightly oiled (foiled if you don't want to scrub) baking sheet. Bake at 375° for 35-60 minutes. Check at 30 minutes and poke the squash at its thickest part, then estimate how much longer until it's tender or check every 5-10 minutes.

Squash, Coconut & Chickpea Curry

vegan, gluten-free, nut-free
Takes about 20 minutes, serves 3-4
  • about 2 lb winter squash, roasted and cut into 1" cubes
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp brown mustard seed
  • ½ tsp. fenugreek seed
  • 1 tsp. cumin seed
  • ½ tsp. turmeric
  • ½ tsp. coriander
  • ½-1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • ½-1 tsp. salt
  • 1 15 oz. can chick peas, drained
  • 1 can coconut milk
In large, heavy bottomed pot, heat a few teaspoons of veg. oil over high heat. Add mustard, fenugreek, cumin and coriander. Once the seeds start to sizzle and pop, add the garlic and onion. Once onion has started to soften and brown a bit, add chick peas, turmeric, red pepper and salt. Toss, then add squash and coconut milk. The squash will start to break down and blend into the coconut milk, making for thick, saucy goodness. The squash shouldn't totally dissolve and dissappear, though.

Simmer for a few minutes, adjust seasoning and serve over rice. Cilantro is also nice addition right at the end, too.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pumpkin Caramel Profiterole

Let's talk about cream puffs. No, let's talk about squash first. I've eaten winter squash, in one form or another, for the last five days. The only problem with this is that I am currently out of squash.

Too many people go straight for cutting winter squash in half, adding butter, brown sugar and cinnamon and baking. There's nothing wrong with that, but squash can do so much more. In the last week, I have eaten squash in a Mexican-style rice bowl with beans and rice, a South Indian-style coconut and chick pea curry, on flatbread with eggs and tomato jam, in macaroni and cheese, and in cream puffs. And, of course, plain by the spoonful. It is no coincidence that asquash, one of the Algonquin roots from which the English word squash derives, simply means "eaten."

Roasting squash really is the only way to cook it: simmering it leaves it with a stringy texture and can sap out the flavor and copious nutrients. Roasting, on the other hand, enriches a squash's sweetness and creamy texture. I like to roast squash ahead of time, even when I'm not going to use it immediately, often a few at a time. As long as you're going to be at home for an hour, you can roast a squash. It doesn't need much attention while cooking. It keeps in the fridge for two weeks or so (in the unlikely occurrence that it sticks around that long) and provides instant squashy gratification.

To roast any variety of winter squash, turn on the oven to 375°; cut your squash in half and scoop out the seeds. The seeds, of course, can be roasted on their own for a toasty snack. Lay the halved squash cut side down on a lightly oiled sheet pan. Use foil if you don't feel like soaking/scrubbing later. Let it cook until squash is tender to the touch and the skin has started to brown up some. Depending on how large your squash is, this could be anywhere from 35-60 minutes. Set a timer for 30 minutes, poke the squash at its thickest point and decide how long you want to set the next timer for based on your squash-poking assessment.

Don't be too rigid in your squash variety selection, either. You may have a recipe for butternut squash soup or pumpkin pie, but you may find that you like the reverse, or that buttercup makes the best ravioli filling or that you are a fiend for hubbard squash in any form you can get it. A friend living in Germany for the year is finding that the only variety she can get, Hokkaidok├╝rbis (Hokkaido, red kuri or baby red hubbard squash), works really well in places she'd expect to use pumpkin or butternut. A guide to about a dozen popular winter squash varieties is available here.

But enough about that. Let's talk about cream puffs, or profiterole, which is a fancy word which refers to anything creamy stuffed in a pâte à choux shell, usually ice cream or whipped cream (cream puffs typically involve pastry cream). The choux paste shell seems to have fallen out of favor in recent times. This is really a shame; they're a versatile vehicle for flavors sweet and savory. And when you think about it as basically making baked bubbles—which it is—making the shells themselves becomes magic even before you fill them.

Which brings us back to roasted squash. If pumpkin pie season can't come soon enough for you, take note: pumpkin profiterole. Or, whatever kind of roasted winter squash you have profiterole. In fact, unless you're starting with a premade crust, these can be ready faster than a pumpkin pie. Moreover, pâte à choux is not appreciably more fussy than a pie crust (Warning: making pâte à choux can be habit-forming). Also, they look way more impressive, especially when you add a drizzle of caramel. The filling is a mixture of roasted squash, brown sugar and the spices you would add to pumpkin pie, folded with a simple whipped cream. The overall effect is an ethereal few bites of creamy, spiced delight.

Pumpkin Profiterole

The recipe here is more a series of components rather than one recipe. After making the choux paste shells, squash filling and caramel, spoon or pipe the filling into the shells and drizzle caramel over the top. Serve promptly.

Pâte à choux

Adapted from Joy of Cooking
makes about 15 two-inch cream puff shells
  • 4 large eggs at room temp.
  • Dry mix:
  • 1 c. AP flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • (optionally add 1 T sugar)
  • Wet Mix:
  • 1 c water/milk
  • 1/3 c. butter
Preheat oven to 400°. Sift dry mix together and set aside. Heat wet mix together in a large, heavy saucepan;
when it boils, add dry mix all at once and stir briskly, until it becomes a smooth paste and stops sticking to the sides and bottom of the pan. (see above)

Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition (some people like to do this in the food processor). Spoon or pipe the paste onto parchment-lined sheet pans in mounds about 1½" across, leaving room for them to puff up. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350° and bake for another 25 minutes, or until quite firm to the touch. Gently stab each with a sharp paring knife to vent it so it cools enough to accept filling without melting it quickly.

Filling

  • 1 c. mashed squash (canned will also work)
  • ½ c. brown sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. ground ginger
  • ½ tsp. clove
  • ½ c. whipping cream
Whip cream. Blend all other ingredients and then fold into whipped cream.

Caramel Sauce

Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert
Lebovitz's blog, Living the Sweet Life in Paris is always a good read as well.
  • ½ c. (1 stick) butter (salted or not, up to you), cut into pieces
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • ¼ tsp. salt, or to taste
  • Optional:
  • ¼ c. bourbon (a little more than a shot)
In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan (deep is important because it will bubble up pretty aggressively after the cream is added), heat the butter and sugar over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar begins to caramelize. When it reaches a dark amber color and smells on the verge of burning, remove from heat and immediately add the cream. Stir until smooth, then stir in salt and bourbon. Letting the sauce cool to at least room temperature gives you a thicker, more caramelly sauce texture, but you can use it before that. Sauce can be stored for up to 2 weeks if refrigerated and a spoonful in a cup of coffee or black tea makes the world a beautiful place.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Garlic & Proust: How to Find Out Who Your Real Friends Are

It is plain that the truth I am seeking lies not in the cup but in myself.
—Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

Don't underestimate the importance of messy, imprecise and sometimes smelly personal rituals like garlic spaghetti. It's difficult to get out of the mindset of ritual being the province of traditional religion; after all, it does share a root with the word rite. But if you take it back even farther, it also shares a root with rhythm, which makes at least as much sense: ritual has as much to do with the beat, the repetitive, familiarly measured flow of action.
It's a way of connecting with personal history, enlivening more abstract, nebulous memories with the more immediate, classical five senses. If nothing else, it's vastly more productive and less creepy means of reminiscing than many others. Proust famously wrote about this phenomenon in In Search of Lost Time, describing and then attempting to deconstruct an inexplicable bliss that came out of eating a bite of madeleine soaked in lime-blossom tea, finally attaching it to time spent with his aunt as a child.

Imprecise memories don't necessarily require precise remembrance. I first learned about garlic spaghetti from a college friend. Our relationship was largely based around cooking together: we lived in the same vegan co-op, worked at the same (non-vegan) restaurant off campus, and found (sometimes invented) plenty of reasons to be hungry and cook together outside of that. To be quite honest, most of my memories of this friendship are messy and smelly, but they're also distinctly delicious.

Garlic spaghetti was a family favorite of his: thick pasta coated in a buttery Parmesan sauce loaded with raw garlic. It may be vegetarian, but health food, this ain't. It started out innocently enough. We'd peel up 4-5 cloves of garlic for a pound of pasta. It was garlicky, but still fairly accessible. However, we had some sort of ongoing need to out-badass the other, and so every time we made it, the garlic content went up. We made this about once a week. By the time I got to making it for my family back home during Winter Break, it had gotten to a point where we were using at least a full bulb of garlic for the two of us. My family thought I had totally lost it and were ruined on the dish, despite being people who like garlic fairly well.

I made it for the first time in several years the other day. My sister and I had, coincidentally, both been thinking about it. I made the sauce with 5 cloves of garlic for the two of us, staying on the conservative side, but wondering how my own tolerance had slipped from the full-bulb dragon-breath days. I thought it could have used a little more garlic.

If you aren't willing to use at least a clove of garlic per person, don't bother. Remember, though, that garlic breath is only a problem for those who don't have it. The friend from whom I learned this dish insisted it was best served with fake bacon bits, and further insisted that they were preferable to real bacon in this case. I don't know that it holds for me, but Bac-Os (or their generic Head Nut-bought equivalent) were an essential piece of the garlic spaghetti ritual in college, and I would be remiss not to mention them. Here, I've tossed some fresh arugula with the hot pasta, letting it wilt gently into the dish, which is an entirely different but, but still nice, touch.

And fear not the leftover garlic spaghetti! For there do you stumble upon another piece of the ritual: the leftover garlic spaghetti omelette. It pretty much explains itself.


Garlic Spaghetti

vegetarian, optionally gluten-free
serves 3-4, takes 30-40 minutes start to finish
  • 1 lb spaghetti (this is the only ingredient with gluten: gluten-free pasta = gluten-free dish)

  • Sauce

  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tblsp. butter, room temperature
  • 1 egg (if you double the recipe, still use 1 egg; 3 or more times the recipe, increase egg)
  • ½ c. good grated Parmesan
  • 1-2 Tsp olive oil

  • Optional accoutrements:
  • fresh ground black pepper (I lied, this is obligatory)
  • fresh arugula or spinach
  • bacon bits, fake or otherwise
  • red pepper flakes, if it isn't hot enough for you already (in the badass times, this was a common addition)

Start by putting the pasta water on to boil. Peel the garlic cloves, grate cheese if necessary. Add ingredients to food processor or blender in the order listed, drizzling in the olive oil last, in a thin stream. The sauce will have a thick, fluffy, almost mayonnaise-like consistency. It is also excellent as a spread on bread, and pairs really well with broccoli.

When pasta is cooked, strain and toss with sauce and fresh greens, if using, until pasta is well-coated and greens are slightly wilted. Serve with black pepper, bac-os, or whatever else appeals to you.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Quick Hits: Chile-Lime Winter Squash/Sweet Potato

It's that time of year where I fall in love with my favorite orange vegetables again - winter squash and sweet potato. Last year, my CSA farm's winter squash crop was drowned by Hurricane Irene. This picture to the right was taken in the squash field. From a kayak. The squash are under about 12 feet of Connecticut River.
They did find their princess in another castle, though, taking in their best sweet potato crop ever from a field a little farther away from the river. In many recipes, this one included, the two are interchangeable. They have very similar nutritional profiles, as well. They're both extremely high in Vitamin A (as are most orange vegetables) and very good sources of Vitamins C, B6, potassium and fiber.

This simple but striking presentation, dressed in sweet, tart and spicy, works equally well for either. Butternut squash is an excellent choice for a dish like this; it's fleshy and its thin skin means it doesn't need to be peeled, just well washed, before being cubed and roasted. Delicata's another good sweet, thin-skinned variety but have a lower flesh-to-seed ratio than butternut. You can eat the rind of any squash, but with many of the thicker-skinned squashes, like buttercup/kabocha, pumpkin or hubbard, you don't want to.

Chile-Lime Squash/Sweet Potato

vegan, gluten/grain-free
done in about 30 minutes, serves 4 as a side
  • 1 large butternut squash, cut to bite-sized wedges
  • or
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2-3 Tblsp. olive oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

  • Dressing:

  • 1-2 T honey
  • zest & juice of one lime
  • ¼-½ tsp. ground chipotle pepper
  • or
  • 1-2 canned chipotles, minced
  • or
  • 1 small red chile, minced
  • some fresh cilantro (optional), roughly chopped

Toss squash with olive oil, spread on sheet pan and sprinkle with salt, cumin, cinnamon. Bake at 450°F for about 25 minutes, turning once. Remove from oven and toss with dressing and cilantro

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Quick Hits: Herb Garlic Parmesan Potato Wedges

A sure sign of fall: potatoes are back! Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew! Perhaps the biggest source of the potato's meteoric rise to culinary ubiquity in Europe has to do with how little need be added to reach being comfort food: little more than heat, salt and maybe butter. You can definitely add more (see last fall's breakdown of Potato Gnocchi with Leek, Kale & Sage Butter), but, as demonstrated by the recent excitement about Waffle-Iron Hashbrowns, the spud requires little help past heat.

Here, cheese and garlic help play up the warm, toasty potato goodness, adding a flavorful crustiness to a simple roasted spud.

Herb Garlic Parmesan Potato Wedges

vegetarian, gluten/grain-free
serves 4-5, about 30 minutes, start to finish
  • 3 lbs potatoes (red ones are nice, but not essential)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Topping:

  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6-10 sprigs thyme (or about 3-4 T)
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • ¼ c. grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 450°F.

Cut potatoes into wedges (6-8 per spud) and toss with olive oil. Spread on sheet pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake wedges for 10-15 min.

While wedges are roasting, mince garlic and mix with other topping ingredients. Turn potato wedges, sprinkle with topping, and return to oven for about 5 minutes.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mole Gringo, with only a dozen(ish) ingredients

Reading about traditional moles makes me feel like a total poser, but it also makes me hungry. My students are currently reading What the Moon Saw, a thinly veiled ethnography of a rural village in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, for another one of their classes. I snagged it to read one day last week in the name of integrated curriculum and devoured it more or less in one sitting, give or take snacks. Oh, YF books, you go down so smooth. It is also a fairly good coming-of-age story about a teenage girl from the burbs of DC meeting her Mexican grandparents for the first time, finding out her grandmother is a curandera (shamanistic healer), and falling for a local boy who sings revolutionary songs real pretty. Moles, though never mentioned by that name are, along with hot chocolate and corn tortillas, essential to the story. In one of her grandmother's stories, a friend recalls a situation in which she planned on killing herself, but decided to make chicken with chocolate-chile sauce as a final meal and decided life was worth it after all. Mole proved to be her reason to keep living.

The word mole comes from a Nahuatl word, molli, which simply means "sauce," though it lines up interestingly with the direct-from-Latin Spanish verb moler, "to grind," an essential process in making mole. Nahuatl, a group of
languages from across southern Mexico, is the source for a surprising number of English words: chocolate, avocado, guacamole, tamale, chili, coyote, and tomato are all of Nahuatl origin, filtered through Spanish. Seeing as the term of origin is as broad as it is, it's unsurprising that there are a wide variety of moles across southern Mexico. They vary in complexity and focus, but have a few things in common: all begin with a variety of chiles, and from there are built out of spices and ingredients that make it sweet, like dried fruit; sour, like tomato or tomatillo; and thick, like nuts, seeds and starch. Oaxaca, where the book takes place, is known in some circles as the "Land of Seven Moles" but it's much broader than that - think of the seven moles a little like the five classic French mother sauces. They're more like guidelines. The most complex of these moles have nearly 40 different ingredients and can take days to make, so it's easy to see where folks might be overwhelmed by the idea of making it on their own for anything short of something very special, and miss out on the joys still available from a simplified mole.

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