Monday, April 27, 2009

Crackers in Bed

Remember that game? Crackers in bed? Where you had to feed the guy in bed crackers through a cutout in the cardboard that was supposed to be his mouth? I don't remember what the point of the game was, but I do remember the idea... strange game.
Anyway, in the spirit of posting when I have lots of schoolwork to do, I whipped up a batch of whole wheat cornmeal crackers and MAN, if you dig snack as much as I do, you will LOVE these!
I'm big into snack. Ask anyone who knows me well. I eat all day long. In class, people eat Balance bars and other "non-food" items made of ingredients I can't pronounce, or identify in real life. Not me. I bring real food for snack. Dried fruit, cookies, yogurt, pretzels, chocolate, nuts and, this week, CRACKERS! I have made crackers before; when I was a snack maker in Old Barrows, we once made cheese crackers. Those were insanely delicious and rich-- a different kind of cracker than these.
I want to note that these used a method I saw on a New York Times video from the tiny kitchen girl, in which you roll out the dough on the BACK of a baking sheet and bake it that way, on the underside of the pan, pan upside down in the oven. I don't remember why you were supposed to do it like that, but I did it, and they came out great. It's also easier to roll out this way so you don't bump into the edges of the pan with your rolling pin. At my old job I had to roll out pans of rosemary focaccia and I would always bump the rolling pin into the sides and it was annoying. Anyway, this way is a good way.

Whole Wheat - Cornmeal Crackers

1/2 c cornmeal
2 1/2 c whole wheat flour
2 T crushed red pepper, more or less depending on if you like very spicy.
1 t salt
2 big pinches kosher salt for sprinklin'
1 c water
1/4 c olive oil

In a medium bowl, mix dry ingredients together (minus the kosher salt).
In the bowl of an electric mixer (if you don't have one, no worries), mix water and oil together.
Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet. Mix on "stir" or low, just until mixture becomes "dough".
Lay out a piece of plastic wrap, and put your dough in the middle. With your hands, form into a rectangle or square, and wrap in the plastic.
Stick it in the fridge for an hour. 15 minutes after putting it in the fridge, you can start to preheat your oven to 500 degrees (HOTT!!).
After the hour's up, lay parchment on the back of two baking sheets. I spray the back of the sheets with oil, a trick I learned to make the paper stick to the pan.
Slice the dough rectangle in half, making two smaller rectangles.
Put one rectangle on each sheet back.
With a rolling pin (or can of beans?), roll out till very thin. Try to make thickness uniform. You can tell by gently pressing with your finger. If you can press deeper at one spot than another, roll that spot more. It's too thick. Then again, the worse that can happen with dough that's too thick is it doesn't get as crispy.
When both are rolled out, bake for 15 minutes in the oven.
Allow to cool completely when done. Then break (or crack), into Crackers!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pretzels and Lemonade

I should have known that street vendor-style pretzels were not what I was looking for when I began, but I was just itching to make a sponge (something yeasty), and I wasn't in the mood for bread. In fact, for the past few days I have been craving salt. Passover ended over a week ago, and there's still no good snack food in the pantry. What's going on?
I decided, in the spirit of not spending money and being proactive, that I would make pretzels. So I adapted a recipe from the book I turn to when I want basic, classic, American and nothing else (although come to think of it, I think the best pretzels I've ever had have been German yeast-free pretzels from the farmers' market in San Mateo, CA, where Matt and I used to sell cheese). Anyway, I thought what've I got to lose? I had more than enough yeast packets to screw up and make a new batch tomorrow.
So I started to pretzel away. At my old baking job in San Francisco, all of our yeasted products started as a sponge, left to proof overnight in the walk-in fridge. I thought I might as well try this method for the pretzels. The sponge proofed over night, comprised of all the ingredients minus the second addition of flour and soft butter.
I was a little confused about the boil; the recipe I used as a guide said boil the pretzels for a minute before baking, or until they floated to the top. My pretzels floated right away, so they were only in the water for about 10-20 seconds, max.
My last comment about this recipe is to definitely not use parchment paper. I guess because the pretzels were wet when put in the oven, the parchment stuck to the backs of most of the pretzels. This was kind of annoying, but for the half of the batch that had no paper, eating was hassle free and great! I could either spend time peeling off paper from the other half or just suck it up and eat it, like an old candy with some paper stuck to it. And that's just what I did!
I lied- one more comment. In the future, I will definitely try a whole wheat flour and honey batch, because I really appreciate that salty/sweet mixture.

Yeast Pretzels For The Sponge:
1 c water- it doesn't have to be warm
1 t dry yeast
1 1/2 c organic flour
1/2 t salt
2 t agave nectar

For After the Sponge:
1 1/4 c sifted organic flour
1 T soft butter

For the Boil
4 c water
5 t baking soda

For the Sprinkle
2 big big pinches of kosher salt

For the sponge, in a large plastic container or mixing bowl, pour water. Gently sprinkle yeast so it floats on the surface. Go walk around your kitchen for a bit, say, 5 minutes, so when you come back and look at the yeasted water, small bubbles are appearing. If no bubbles after 5 min, something is probably wrong. Maybe your yeast is dead? If bubbles, proceed. Dump remaining ingredients for sponge right on top and, with a whisk, gently stir a couple of times--the mixture does NOT have to be fully incorporated.
Cover the container loosely-- as the dough proofs, gas will need to escape from the container. Make sure your lid is NOT tightly fitting.
Leave this sponge overnight, or at least for a few hours (as many as possible).
In the morning, scrape mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the second addition of flour and butter. With the dough hook attachment, mix the dough until it climbs up the hook, or until mixture is not sticky. The first guy who ever taught me about yeasted breads told me it's done when it feels like an earlobe. Or a booty. Either one. At this point, ball up the dough, and place in a lightly oiled container, no lid necessary. Wrap the entire container in plastic wrap, so it is air tight.
When the mixture has doubled in size (say, an hour?), it's time to shape and form the pretzels. This amount of dough made for me 10 pretzel-shaped pretzels, 10 pretzel sticks, and 10 little knobs, the size of golf balls. To shape the pretzels and the rods, roll the dough between your palms until they become ropes the thinness of your pinky finger. Shape the ropes into pretzels when they reach a little over a foot in length, and stop for the rods when they are about 6 inches long, tops. With the leftover dough, you can continue making rods or pretzels or little knobs. Whatever you like.
On a greased baking sheet (or probably two), let all of these fun pretzel shapes rise again, this time for about 25 min.
When rise is almost over, preheat the oven to 475 degrees and boil the water mixed with baking soda.
When water is boiling, gently place pretzels, about 4 at a time, into the water, for about 20 seconds each. Remove on a slotted spoon and replace on original baking sheet. Repeat until all are done. Sprinkle generously with course salt.
Bake pretzels in the oven on 475 for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
Lemonade by Matt
2 lemons
fresh mint

Juice the lemons into a cocktail shaker, and muddle with mint. Add a bunch of sugar (to taste), and fill shaker with water and some ice. Shake.
Pour through a strainer and serve with ice and a lemon wedge on the rim of the glass.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I don't want to do work. I just want elaborate eggs.

If you read regularly, you know, because I've mentioned it at least a few times, that my favorite form of procrastination is COOKING!! I have a paper due on Wednesday for my cognitive and affective bases of behavior class. I even picked a topic I find interesting; a topic I am personally invested in: determinants of health behavior. I can even apply my thesis to my actions now, writing this blog post. Assume that writing my paper is good for my health. By writing this post, and by cooking virtually all day, I am acting against my own self-interest, because procrastination feels good for the moment. I am letting affect, emotion, influence my cogntive decision making. This acting against my best interests does not mean that I am not using cognition. It just means that my values have changed, for the moment. Right now, procrastinating is being placed at a subjectively higher value than my long term goal of finishing the paper. That does not mean I'm not using cognition, active thought, to make the decision. Cognition does not have to be rational. Alas, I made elaborate eggs instead of writing this morning. I will probably do something else unnecessarily elaborate tomorrow morning.

Elaborate Eggs, for One

2 organic eggs
3 stalks asparagus, cut on the bias (for texture), blanched till just done
3 cooked potatoes, under the broiler
yummy salsa, to taste
vinegar- just a touch- for the poach

I am writing this post assuming you know how to poach eggs. I realize I should explain, just in case. Have a slow boil of water mixed with a tablespoon or two of vinegar in a small saucepan. Crack an egg into a small cup. Hold the small cup with the egg in it just over the surface of the water. Bring cup as close to the water as possible, and then, in one steady movement, pour the egg right into the water. Repeat with as many eggs as you have, one at a time. If you add too many eggs to the water, one concern is that you will forget which went in first, and overcook it. A more practical concern is you will lower the temperature of the water too much, cooling it down and affecting the cooking time. Both are unfavorable things to happen. I usually do only about four eggs at once or, in a large pot, more. An egg is ready when, with a slotted spoon, you lift it out of the water and, with your finger, gently push on the yolk. It should feel undone, but the whites should be firm. Dry off the extra water, if you don't want the egg dish to get watery. If not, just eat!

Ok: back to elaborate eggs. Layer your broiled sliced potatoes on a plate. Pile your texture-enhancing-cut of asparagus on top. Then plop your perfectly poached egg on top. Season with salt and pepper (a must for poached eggs). Dab some salsa on top, for looks and taste, and eat! YUM!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

They've got sauce!

...And they go great as another add on to the Cauliflower-Anchovy Spaghetti below! This recipe was sort of an experiment. Inspired by Gourmet magazine's Tuscan beans recipe, this dish is completely delicious! I'm sure it's as good on toast as it is on the pasta below (I had it with the pasta. Simply dee-lish). One good thing about being at my parents' house is there are always good things in the fridge. I don't have to go shopping for specific ingredients! Hooray! This recipe is especially good if you like smokey foods. Come to think of it, most of my bean recipes are made smokey. I like black beans cooked with chipotle, the best. This recipe below is for Great Northern beans, and I honestly did not anticipate the smokiness, but I was very pleasantly surprised by it.

Smoky Tuscan Bean Recipe

1 c grape tomatoes, halved
2 ripe-as-possible big tomatoes, coarsely chopped, then pureed in blender
1/2 T butter
1 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
a handful of fresh thyme, on the stem or not
1/2 an onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, sliced thin
4 c cooked Great Northern beans
1/2 c water
salt and pepper, to taste
freshly grated parmesan or other hard cheese (maybe dry jack?)

Preheat oven to 450. In medium to large saucepan, on medium heat, melt butter with oil and add onion, celery, thyme, and garlic. Sautee until onion is translucent. Add pureed fresh tomato, beans, water, salt and pepper. Bring to boil and simmer on low heat, about 15 min. Pour contents of the saucepan into a casserole dish and put grated cheese on top. Top off with halved grape tomatoes. Cook, uncovered, 30 min in the oven. Remove and let stand. Serve when warm, either on top of Cauliflower-Anchovy Spaghetti below or mashed, on toast. Excellent meal! Mmm Mmm Good!


Truly, when I think of anchovies, my mouth fills with a gross overpowering feeling. I can almost taste my idea of anchovies. My sickeningly salty idea taste idea anchovies does not represent the real taste of real anchovies. Especially not in this dish.
This is a quick vegetarian-ish dinner (ish because are tiny little anchovies really not vegetarian? okay fine maybe not, but vegetarians, I tell ya, they're great). My mother makes it a lot, and I always thought it was to poison us with anchovies. Actually, I loved the dish until I found out it had anchovies in it, then distanced myself from it, and then to it I returned. It turns out, not only is this delicious, but it is so quick and easy to make. Look at that, Mom wasn't trying to force feed us tiny fish; she was saving herself from making a hassle of a dinner! Honestly, I do not have much experience with anchovies, but I write about them in such a way here today because I feel I need to urge my readers to give anchovies a first, second, or third chance. The way they are cooked in this dish allows you to notice their flavor, but subtly. It is not the stinky anchovy taste I experienced with my first anchovy pizza pie. So I say, give it a try, why don't you!?

Cauliflower Anchovy Spaghetti
1 lb whole wheat spaghetti (or linguini)
1 head cauliflower, cut into small pieces and steamed
4 anchovy filets, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 t crushed red pepper
2 T extra virgin olive oil

Boil water and cook your pasta while you prepare the cauliflower as directed below.
In a cast iron skillet, place olive oil, garlic, pepper, and anchovies.
Cook on low heat, careful not to burn your garlic.
Add the cauliflower and sautee a bit (5 min or so) on medium heat.
When cauliflower tastes done, and pasta is cooked and strained, dump the cauliflower on top of the pasta and serve immediately.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Delishimous Almond Sandwich Cookies

So I completely meant to post these during Passover, the holiday during which we Jews may not consume regular baked goods. No leavened breads, cookies, cakes are allowed. Nor are beans, corn, rice... All we're left with are matzah products. Matzah with cream cheese, matzah with tomato sauce and melted cheese ("pizza", if you will), matzah soaked in water, drained, and beaten with egg as matzah brie... these are just a few of my Passover favorites. However, they get a little old. And no matter what I make out of matzah meal, it always has a bit of a funny taste. Bitter... not right.
So instead of going for food that emphasizes what Passover traditionally prohibits, trying to recreate dishes and snacks that are outlawed, I realized it's not as hard as it seems to adhere to Passover for eight days. Truly delicious foods can be made, still refraining from those ingredients not allowed. How come I had never thought of that? Why, I could spend the week and a day eating salads all the time. Fresh vegetables and fruits. Dried fruit. Some nuts. So many delicious foods that I don't consume enough of on a regular daily basis.
I won't say it wasn't a challenge... it was a challenge. But a challenge that strengthened my mindfulness. My awareness of what I was eating was almost unbearably heightened. In a way, it was quite wonderful!
Amidst my diet of scrumptious fruits and vegetables (by the way, I spent the past week and a half in San Francisco, on a steady diet of only the freshest local, seasonal farmers' market produce-- I was spoiled, to the max), I found time to experiment with the most delicious wheat-free cookies.
I'd tried to make these a year ago, from almond flour instead of paste, and it was a yummy failure. The finished product was edible yet not at all presentable. So I ended up eating an entire tray of this goopy gop, with nothing to show for my hard work at attempting french macaroons just like the ones they sell at La Boulange in San Francisco.
This year, I was much more careful with my mise en place. I actually drew circles on my parchment paper, creating neat boundaries into which my sweet almond-egg white paste would be squeezed from my homemade pastry bag (read: large ziplock bag with a small hole in one corner). I used my mother's food processor, in place of my previous tool for the job: an electric mixer. I made sure my jam filling was the right thickness; not too watery, not too thick. I even exerted the utmost patience and did not remove the cookies from the parchment until they were fully cooled.
When everyone tasted the cookies, faces lit up-- these were homemade? NO WAY!!
The next day, I was greeted with a request for another batch. And to the kitchen I went, to create the second round of yummy kosher for passover (at least by me) treats. The best thing is, unlike matzah with cream cheese, these cookies are actually suitable for year round eating--definitely not something you get sick of after eight days. I hope you can enjoy them, too.

1 7-oz tube of pure almond paste
1 c sugar
2 egg whites
1 large zip lock bag
your favorite jam (I used seedless raspberry)

Preheat oven to 350 on a convection oven (375 if no convection). Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper. If you think you'll have a hard time making consistently similar sized cookies, you can trace a quarter, making circles on the parchment in neat rows, about an inch apart. I actually traced a teaspoon time and again to have my circles, then placed the parchment pen-side down on the baking sheet.
This type of dough works well out of a pastry bag. I, unfortunately do not own one *yet*. However, there is an easy way to make your own. Using a scissor, make a small hole in one corner of the zip lock bag. The end.
In a food processor, pulse paste and sugar. Add egg whites, and puree.
Scoop contents into your pastry bag, trying to get all the batter into that one corner, not all over the bag. I use the "hungry muppet" technique: turn the bag inside out and put my hand in it, as if making a hand puppet. Then I "feed" the bag the dough. This way, it goes right in where I want it, and I turn the bag back right side out. If you don't know what I mean, just spoon it in from the top. No worries.
Using your filled pastry bag, "draw" circles of batter, filling in your circles on the parchment.
Bake in the oven for 15-18 minutes.
Allow cookies to cook before attempting to remove from the paper.
When TRULY cooled, you may eat them as single cookies OR spread a bit of jam in between two for sandwich cookies. The best.