Saturday, December 20, 2008

Just like mom used to make...


I remember being very embarrassed to have sleepovers at my house. It wasn't that I didn't like the idea of friends spending the night--I did! Who doesn't like getting to stay up late watching movies and eating junk food? What I didn't like was that in the morning, my mother would be downstairs making pancakes. They were pancakes that, had I not had friends over, I would have been delighted to eat, but because friends were over, they were embarrassing. These were not your typical pancakes, although they were (and still are) my favorite pancakes. They were whole wheat banana pancakes. Nowadays, I can happily admit that they are my favorite pancakes. But I distinctly remember being made fun of when I was in elementary school for being "too healthy" (go figure, kids will pick on you for anything, no?). Having friends sleep over meant that in the morning, they would see that I really was too healthy. My mother really did make whole wheat health foods with fruit in them. YUCK! How un-cool could I possibly be?
When I look back on these memories, I don't blame myself for being self-conscious, but I can at least see how ridiculous I was. I now warmly embrace the very diet I embarrassingly grew up with!
Here's my newer version of whole wheat banana pancakes, with a twist.



1 c whole wheat flour
1/2 t salt
a tad less than 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder

1 T molasses
1 egg
1.5 T melted butter
1 c plain yogurt (or buttermilk)
2/3 c milk

2 T raspberry jam
1-2 ripe bananas, sliced or mashed, depending on your preference
sliced baked pear (optional)
In a large bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, combine molasses, egg, butter, yogurt and milk. Add the wet mixture to the dry, and stir until just mixed. Lumps are okay. Swirl in the jam--it does not have to be fully incorporated (I like leaving it in clumps). You may add mashed banana now, or add it, sliced, to pancakes as they are poured into the skillet. Either way works.

Pour by the 1/4 c full into lightly greased skillet on medium heat. Remember that the first pancake is usually the "tester", so if it doesn't come out perfectly, don't worry, but use it as a gauge to tell if the temperature is too high or low and adjust accordingly. Pancakes should typically cook on the first side until they are bubbly and look dry around the edges, about 4-5 minutes, then about 3-4 min on the other side, as well. Serve plain, or with baked pears and maple syrup, as I did this morning!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Procrastination Cranberry-Almond Scones!


Still in finals, I have decided to write about these wonderful scones I made. I really enjoy making scones- they are so good when they are good! Flakey, buttery goodness. Mmm Mmm Mmm! My work as a baker gave me a valuable understanding of the chemistry underlying baking and gave me a knowledge of how to make scones without a recipe. I'm not saying every recipe I make up is golden, but this one is! You can also experiment with different types of fruits (or no fruit) in your scones. I use frozen cranberries in this recipe but if you wanted to use dried, that would be okay, too.

2 c organic unbleached flour
1 c organic whole wheat flour
2 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/4 c sugar
1.5 sticks very cold organic butter, cut into small cubes (maybe 20 per stick)
1 c frozen cranberries
1/2 c crushed almonds (with or without skin) plus 1/3 c for topping
1 c organic cultured buttermilk


Preheat convection oven to 350 degrees. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flours, baking powder+soda, sugar and salt. Add your very cold butter pieces(which can be cut into pieces and frozen the night before for added coolness), and turn mixer on to low. Keep on mixing until the contents of the bowl resemble cornmeal. You want the pieces of butter to break down into crumbs, but not so much that the butter becomes integrated into the dry ingredients, turning it into, say, a pie dough texture. At this point you can add your frozen cranberries and 1/2 c crushed almonds, and keep mixing on low. Look and see if adding the biggish cranberries provides contrast to help you see the butter crumbs- if it seems the butter pieces are still really big in contrast to the cranberries, keep on mixing before adding anything else. It's great to be able to compare to the cranberries, but if you mix for too long, the cranberries will bleed, which we would like to avoid, unless you are going for pink scones intentionally.
When the mixture looks right, add your buttermilk. Mix until just incorporated- maybe two turns of the paddle. Then remove bowl, and use rubber spatula to scrape around the sides and bottom to make sure its all mixed. Again, we're not going for doughy consistency, exactly.
In fact, what makes scones so great and crumbly is that where a given piece of butter melts will crumble when you bite it. So you want it to not be a homogeneous mixture.
With an ice cream scoop, or in the palm of your hand, shape rounded mounds and place on parchment paper. Top with crushed almond pieces and/or turbinado sugar.
Bake on 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.
Let cool.
EAT!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

GIANT GINGER COOKIES


I have been bombarded by work for the past couple of weeks, and the end is in sight, but there is a bit more to do before I get there. Being that the kitchen is where I do my work when I'm home, my chosen form of procrastination is baking. The fruits of this type of procrastination are well worth the distraction from seemingly more important tasks (such as take-home test completion). I want to mention that often I bake because I love to bake--not because I want to eat an entire batch of cookies. I'm not saying I don't pig out on goodies from time to time, but overall, I enjoy the very act of baking. I find it meditative; an exercise in concentration, perhaps? Also, I like the act of producing something from scratch. True creation.
In the spirit of the cold, I whipped up some giant ginger cookies, inspired by a cookbook birthday present from my parents, The Modern Baker.
I also want to mention that I find the end result is always best when I don't rush through any of the process--when I'm fully present for each and every step, the process is much more gratifying.

If you know ahead of time that you're going to bake these cookies, it's a good idea leave the sticks of butter out overnight so it will soften nicely.

3/4 c (1.5 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 c sugar
1 egg
2 c organic unbleached flour
1 c organic whole wheat flour
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
One inch piece of peeled fresh ginger, diced super finely
1 T ground ginger
1/4 c finely chopped candied ginger pieces

Preheat convection oven to 350 degrees. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, mix flours, baking soda + powder, salt, and ground ginger.
In an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar. When you notice the original color of the butter has lightened in shade, add the one egg. Continue to beat until fully incorporated. Stop mixer and add half the mixed dry ingredients. Turn mixer back on low for a bit, until mixture is smooth. Stop it again, and add the rest of the dry mixture, fresh ginger, and candied ginger pieces. Mix until incorporated. Use a rubber spatula or plastic bench scraper to make sure all the bits and pieces from the sides and bottom of the bowl get mixed in.
Using a #15 scoop, (a large serving spoon, or tablespoon will do, but you'll need to make the scoop HEAP), scoop level scoops of dough onto sheet pans. You should have enough dough for approximately 10 giant cookies, or many little ones. Flatten each scoop of dough on the tray so it will bake evenly, but don't make the cookie THIN. We want them to be GIANT! You may also sprinkle on a teensy bit of white sugar, but it's not entirely necessary.
Bake in oven for 12 minutes. Remove trays from oven, let sit on tray for a few minutes out of the oven, and then you can either move them to a cooling rack, or eat them!

Fun with leftover noodles!



As I opened the fridge, I realized I still had six or seven leftover lasagna noodles. Since I was already home alone, preparing myself for a night of staying in to write a few papers, I decided to whip up a single serving of lasagna. Not a re-do of fall lasagna, but a variation of a more traditional-looking vegetarian lasagna: mozzarella, red sauce, noodles...

I started the sauce on the stove; we were out of onions, so the improv recipe is below. It was actually pretty good even minus the chopped onion. The recipe is below. I used a round ramekin, probably 4-5" in diameter, but any smaller single-serve pyrex or other dish will do.

Preheat oven on convection to 350 degrees, 375 if you don't have convection.
Sauce:
1-2 T Extra Virgin olive oil
4 cloves smashed or diced garlic (I like to smash, then chop roughly, but it might just be a phase)
1/4 t dried oregano
1/4 t dried thyme
1/8-1/4 t crushed red pepper (less or more, depending on how much heat you like)
1 16 oz can peeled whole tomatoes, crushed in your hands*
pinch salt and pepper (to taste)

Filling:
1/4 c ricotta cheese
1/4 c small curd cottage cheese
1 c very very lightly steamed spinach
salt and pepper to taste

Leftover lasagna noodles
1/4 c mozzarella, shredded

In a small-medium saucepan, on medium heat, pour in oil. When it's hot, add garlic, oregano, thyme. Stir, cook for a bit but do not let garlic brown. After 5 min or so, add tomatoes, their juice, crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper. Stir it up, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat so sauce is simmering. Leave on a low simmer from 30 min to an hour.

While sauce is cooking, let's trim those leftover noodles! Place ramekin on top of one noodle. With either kitchen scissors or a pairing knife, trace noodle to be the shape and size of the ramekin. Then cut your new shape in half, if need be (I did). Use your newly shaped noodle as a template and cut out some more (however many layers you will need for your lasagna).

Mix together cottage cheese, ricotta, and spinach, s+p.

Place two halves (or one whole) noodle in bottom of ramekin. Spoon a bit of filling on top of noodles. Spoon a bit of sauce on top. Add another two halves of noodle shapes on top. Continue to layer filling and sauce until you get to the top of the ramekin. When you reach the top, sprinkle on mozzarella. Put it in the oven for about...40 minutes, but keep an eye on it after 30.

It should look deeelicious. You can spoon leftover sauce on top when you serve it.
Oh, also- it ended up being more than just one serving for me-- more like 2 and a half.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fall Lasagna Dream


Some people think the coming of winter means an end to fertility of the land. While the winter may not be the most fruitful season (literally), there are still some great vegetables that are enjoyed between late fall/early winter. One of these is squash. A lot of people think squash is really bland, only to be eaten if there's nothing else in the fridge or pantry. And when the only ideas you can conjure up when you think of squash are split + roasted or puree/soup, I don't blame them!

The other day I was driving, and all of a sudden this thought landed in my head: Butternut squash lasagna. Now, I've never eaten such a dish, and I wasn't sure if it was original (it's not), but for some reason, the idea planted itself in my head and continued to grow. All day I thought about how I would make my butternut squash lasagna. I had a couple of organic winter squashes in the pantry from our CSA, and also had some of the farm's curly kale in the fridge, but I wasn't sure about the logistics, so I did some research.

I consulted my trusted Alice Waters Vegetables cookbook and read her section on winter squash. She did not have a recipe for lasagna, so I continued to look, enriched with the knowledge of how to roast and mash squash, and make sure it isn't too watery. Gathering bits and pieces from many of my cookbooks, including inspiration from Deborah Madison (famous Greens chef), as well, I turned to the World Wide Web. It was here that I came upon the food network's website's recipe for butternut squash lasagna: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/butternut-squash-lasagna-recipe/index.html , all The New York Times archives on butternut squash and, finally, coconut & lime, an excellent food blog. This website is great! Mad props to Rachel Rappaport. Check out her site here: http://coconutlime.blogspot.com/2008/11/butternut-squash-swiss-chard-white.html
I think my final creation was a mix between the cook deep down inside of me that takes over when I begin, Alice Waters, Deborah Madison, and maybe Rachel Rappaport, too. What wonderful women to be inspired by!

From all I read in an afternoon, I began my creation of fall lasagna. The recipe is below. I want to mention that in my family, there are two very picky eaters, who just happened to be home for Thanksgiving weekend. One of them rarely eats more than one serving, and the other (although he assures me I'm stuck in the past and his eating horizons have broadened) is just plain picky. Both picky eaters very much enjoyed this dish and we almost finished the entire casserole in one evening! I was very satisfied with my creation, to say the least. As always, I always try to use as many organic ingredients* as possible.

What you'll need:
One large-ish (I used a 9x13 pyrex) casserole dish
1 lb lasagna noodles (NOT the no-boil kind)
1 large *butternut squash (approx. 3+ lb), cut in half lengthwise, seeds discarded
1 bunch *curly kale (or any greens you like, really), washed, ribs discarded, and chopped into ~2" pieces
1 T *dried sage (fresh will do, too)
2 c ricotta cheese OR small curd cottage cheese (if you're on a diet or just like cottage cheese...)
salt and pepper to taste
1 c part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 c *milk
1 T *butter
1 T *flour (for a thickener; any flour will do)
1/8 t freshly ground nutmeg
3 *cloves garlic, chopped

Place squash, cut side down, on parchment paper on baking sheet. Roast squash in oven on 375 for 45 min to 1 hr. Don't worry about time so much; it's very hard to burn squash. When it's done, let cool. When you can touch it comfortably, peel off the skin (which should be easy if it's done) with fingers or a pairing knife for extra help. Put squash in a bowl and mash with a fork or masher. If the mashed squash looks watery, put it in a saucepan, turn to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, so the water evaporates and squash thickens. If you don't do this, the noodles will get very soggy (not to my liking).

Cook lasagna noodles according to box. Starches can be very sticky, so when the noodles are done, try to lay them flat in a single layer, or under ice cold water, so they remain independent.

In a pan on the stove, place WET, washed, and cut kale (or other greens). Cover pan--this is going to steam till almost tender, so you want some water in there. If it's not wet enough from being washed, add a bit; start with a 1/4 cup. When it's done, dump it into a medium bowl. Add ricotta (or cottage) cheese, sage, salt, and pepper, to taste, and mix.

The "sauce" of this dish is sort of a lighter bechamel, which is basically a butter-flour roux plus milk. This is a "light" bechamel, because there is not much butter in it (in my opinion the lasagna is rich enough w/ out the excess). In a small sauce pan, whisk, butter and flour on medium-low heat. When smooth, add your milk, garlic, and nutmeg. That's it!

Now, for the layering (read: the fun part). In your casserole or baking dish, place some noodles in a single layer. Now take your thickened mashed squash and spread over noodles in about a 1/2" layer. Next, in easy to handle globs (hands work well for this), spread on some cheese-kale mixture. NEXT LAYER OF NOODLES! Squash, cheese-kale. Noodles... you get it. When you've either filled the pan or exhausted your fillings, pour on your sauce. Depending on your liking, you can use all of it, or less. I used almost all of it. Sprinkle on shredded mozzarella.

Pop it in the oven for about 45 min on 375 (convection) oven; or 400 if you don't have a convection setting for your oven.

When it's done, let it sit a bit (5 min?) so that it's not incredibly liquidy when you serve it. Hopefully it will be wonderful and taste delicious. Enjoy!