Wednesday, April 29, 2015

English Muffins


A while ago I struggled to get yeast to work with me.  It seemed that yeast was never going to cooperate, so I let it go.  My French bread tasted good, but just didn't have the airy deliciousness it should have.  Other breads didn't quite rise they way they should.  So I dropped yeast and yeast created items from my cooking and concentrated on cooking.  Then I decided I would try some simpler breads...first was Irish soda bread.  That turned out great; it was easy and tasty.  I thought maybe I should attempt yeast again.  I even made my own sourdough starter from scratch which basically takes natural yeast from the air, so you don't even need to buy any.  I continued to bake with yeast and things suddenly worked out.  I learned that bread and yeast can be very forgiving if you just are patient and watch how things are processing.  I still have mistakes here and there, but overall it just works out better now.


So, last weekend I decided I wanted to make English muffins.  I found a recipe from a book I have from the library, Huckleberry.  I had seen Huckleberry in a store a few weeks back, but thought that I wouldn't buy it for myself as I have a lot of baking books.  I did buy it for a friend as I knew she would like the things in there.  Once it arrived, I only took a morning to look through it before I shipped it to her.  Then, I kept thinking about those polka dot pages and decided to borrow it from the library, so I could spend more time reading through it to decide if I really wanted to own it.  The pictures are beautiful.  I couldn't get past the English muffin recipe, so I decide that I must make them.  They turned out beautifully and tomorrow my co-workers are going to get the benefit of me liking to spend time in my kitchen.

English Muffins
3 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
3 1/2 tablespoons honey
6 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup cornmeal

Warm 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk in the microwave, just until lukewarm (and a finger placed in it doesn't feel cold).  Be sure it doesn't get warmer than about 110 F or else the yeast will die.  Place 1 1/2 cups of the buttermilk in a kitchen aid bowl along with the 2 tablespoons of yeast.  Whisk to combine.  Add the warm buttermilk and whisk again to blend.  Add the butter, honey, flour, sugar and salt.  Mix on low speed with a dough hook for about a minute.  Once the dough has come together, turn the speed to medium and work the work for 1-2 additional minutes or until it is smooth.  Transfer the dough to a greased bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.

Remove dough from the refrigerator.  Sprinkle 1/3 cup of the cornmeal onto a clean work surface.  Dump the dough onto it.  Sprinkle the top with additional cornmeal.  Pat into a circle about an inch thick.  Sprinkle the remaining cornmeal onto a cookie sheet.  Cur into 3 inch rounds.  Be efficient as you cannot use any unused dough (due to the cornmeal being mixed in).  Arrange the muffins on a cookie sheet and let rise at room temperature for an hour.  (At this point you can also refrigerate and then let them rise at room temperature for an hour the next morning.)

About 30 minutes before you want to bake, preheat your oven to 350 F.  Heat a cast iron pan or griddle over medium high heat.  Drop the English muffins into the pan and cook for about 1 minute per side until each side is golden brown.

Return the muffins to the cookie sheet and immediately bake for about 10 minutes.  They should be light and fluffy when removed from the pan.  If you have more than one sheet bake it as soon as the last muffin comes off the pan.  Makes about a dozen.

(Note: I didn't want to waste the dough, so I did combine the dough into two additional muffins, but the insides had cornmeal throughout the dough, so was not the typical English muffin, but they baked up nicely.)  These will keep up to 3 days at room temperature.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Black Beans and Rice

I love beans.  I know I have said this before, but I really don't know where this obsession came from as I don't remember eating them often when I was young.  And, when I was young, we had beans with bacon which were sweet and I never liked them.  Maybe that is why once I discovered them as a savory dish I decided they were wonderful.  They are good for you.  They are filling and an alternate to eating so much meat, but they also accompany meat dishes.  My favorite hands down are black beans, but white beans hold a close second.  This is a dish I found years ago from somewhere on the internet and have adapted it to make it according to my tastes.  It is a great side dish when served with white rice (or brown rice depending on my patience and mood), but I also eat black beans and rice for lunch just as it is.

Black Beans and Rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onions (I usually use yellow or white)
1 red pepper, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 - 15 oz. can black beans with jalapenos (you can use regular if you wish, but I like the spice and flavor which the black beans get from the jalapenos)
1 teaspoon oregano
3/4 cup water
1 package goya seasoning (if you can't find this use 1/4 teaspoon dried coriander, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 cups cooked rice  (1 cup uncooked rice.)

Before you begin the beans, rinse 1 cup of uncooked rice.  Put the rice on to cook and it should be ready at about the time the black beans are ready.

In a medium pot, pour in the olive oil.  Saute the chopped onions and red pepper in the olive oil until just beginning to brown.  Add the garlic and let cook for another couple of minutes.  When it is tender, stir in remaining ingredients. (If you are using the beans with jalapenos, you can dice up some of the jalapenos to add a little spice.  I usually add 2-3, but not all of them.) Simmer for at least 10 more minutes.

Serve over white rice.

Red Quinoa and White Bean Salad with Parsley and Lemon


Quinoa has to be one of my favorite grains.  It is light and fluffy, versatile, colorful and delicious.  You can add stock when you are cooking and give it instant flavor.  You can add it to pancakes to make it healthier and heartier.  I also have a cache of white beans, mostly canned, but dried ones as well.  This salad adapted from Plenty More by Ottolenghi combines two of my always in stock items for a pleasant, easy salad.

Red Quinoa and White Bean Salad with Parsley and Lemon
2/3 cup red quinoa
1 small bunch flat leafed parsley, cut finely
4 green onions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1 can (about 15 oz.) cannellini (or other white beans), drained and rinsed
1/2 large lemon, zest the hald you are using, juice the half as well to add to salad
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste

Bring a sauce pan of water to boil.  Add the quinoa and simmer for about 12-14 minutes until light and fluffy (or according to package instructions).  Drain and rinse in cold water and set aside to dry completely.  Once dry transfer quinoa to a large salad bowl.  Add the shredded parsley, green onions, beans, lemon, allspice, olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste.  Stir together.  Let rest for about 5 minutes to let flavors come together.  Taste again and adjust seasonings.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

This winter I was in the mood for soup, so I tried a few different versions of new soups.  The one I liked best and thought was also very hearty was a mushroom soup.  Then, yesterday, I was talking to a friend of mine who asked if I had ever made Hungarian Mushroom soup.  I did some research and found that I had a recipe for it, but had never made it.  In being me, I have adapted it to my tastes.  And, in case you didn't know, paprika comes from Hungary.  I was accustomed to the sweet paprika which added flavor, but no spice to recipes.  When looking in a spice shop (my favorite is Penzey's), I discovered they have spicy paprika.  I love it!  Adds the depth of regular paprika with additional spice.  With the addition of spicy paprika it added a little bite to the soup, but still retained the traditional flavor.  There are variations around the internet of this Hungarian Mushroom Soup, but this is a version after the Moosewood cookbook's version.

Hungarian Mushroom Soup
Serves: 4 starter portions

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz. cremini mushrooms (chopped, but not finely)
2 tablespoons half-sharp paprika (or half sweet and half sharp if you don;t like as much spice)
2 tablespoons freshly chopped dill
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (to taste)
3 tablespoon unsalted butter
2-3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
2 cups vegetable or beef broth
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1/2 cup sour cream
Garnish (if desired): extra dill, fresh parsley, dollop of sour cream

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a frying pan.  Saute the onions just until starting to brown.  Add the garlic, saute for another minute.  Add the mushrooms and saute for another 5 minutes until the mushroom have release their juices.  Continue over a lower heat for another 5-10 minutes.  Add the lemon juice.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a Dutch oven over medium, add the 3 tablespoon butter.  Once melted add the flour and whisk for several minutes until the flour/butter mixture turn a caramel brown color.  Add the milk, broth, soy sauce and continue whisking until the mixture is smooth.  Whisk in the paprika, dill, salt and black pepper.  Add the mushroom mixture.  Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer for about 10 minutes.  Stir often.  Turn off heat and let cool for a couple of minute.  Add the sour cream and stir in gently (if you would like more heat you can turn it on low, but do not boil or the sour cream with curdle).   Serve hot with parsley, dill and/or a dollop of sour cream.  Very good with crusty bread.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Rosemary-scented Caramel Pine Nut Tart

I try to go out to dinner with a couple of different friends at least once a month to try new restaurants.  A month or two ago I went out and had this tart for dessert.  When the server was explaining the desserts (which I usually don't order), I decided a rosemary infused pine nut tart had to be mine to try.  I like different flavor combinations and this one intrigued me enough to try it.  Not only was it very delicious it stuck in my head.  I searched the internet for a way to make this.  The only place that has a recipe is a recipe by Claudia Fleming when she worked at the Gramercy Tavern.  So this recipe is adapted from her cookbook The Last Course.  Though I tend not to make many desserts, I think this will become a cookbook that I use for those adventures.  

Rosemary-scented Caramel Pine Nut Tart
Serves 8-10

Crust:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup almond meal

Filling:
1 cup pine nuts, toasted
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup vanilla sugar
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons corn syrup
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 sprigs rosemary (about 5 inches each)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Crust: In a mixer bowl, beat the butter and powdered sugar for about a minute.  Add the lightly beaten egg and mix together.  Whisk together the flours (white and almond meal) with the salt.  Add the flour mixture to the butter, sugar and egg mixture.  Mix only until just combined.  Wrap the dough and chill for at least an hour.


 Preheat oven to 325F.  Roll the dough out into a 12 inch round which should fit into a 10 inch tart pan with removable bottom.  Trim extra dough and prick with a fork.  (I used a 10 inch spring-form as my tart pan does not have a removable bottom.)  Chill for an additional 10 minutes.  Remove from the refrigerator and bake for about 20 minutes or until slightly golden brown. Let cool.


 Filling: Preheat oven to 350F and toast the pine nuts for about 7-8 minutes or just until starting to lightly brown.  Remove from oven and let the pine nuts cool.

In a saucepan, melt the butter.  Once melted add the honey, corn syrup and sugar.  Keep the heat low until the sugar is dissolved and then raise the heat to high.  Let the mixture boil, stirring to keep it from burning.  It will turn a dark amber color color after about 14 minutes.  Remove from heat and whisk in the heavy cream.  It will sputter, so it is better if you add a little at a time and keep the caramel over low heat.  If the cream is too cold the caramel will seize.  Keep stirring and it will become smooth.  Turn off the heat and add the toasted pine nuts, vanilla, rosemary sprigs and salt.  Let the rosemary infuse for about 15 minutes.


Wrap the outside of the cooled tart shell with aluminum foil.  Remove the rosemary sprigs and pour the filling into the shell.  Place on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Dakos (Tomato and Cracker Salad)

I have mentioned before that I like reading cookbooks.  I used to preview the cookbook before deciding if I would like to invest the money to buy it.  However, I spend some time now reading reviews and making the decision as not all cookbooks are available from the library to read before deciding to buy or not.  Certain authors or blogs I trust pretty explicitly.  Sometimes I buy a cookbook, read some or all of it and never cook from it, but still they are valuable to me.  I think some people think I am crazy to own so many cookbooks, but at times the conversation comes to a recipe and I go get the book that I am talking about as I nearly always know which cookbook something came from.  Given that I have about 200 hundred cookbooks, I think that some people are amazed that I can do this; however, some recipes are just stuck in my brain and they get filed until further need of them.  All this leads back to the cookbook that I am dedicating to March.  It has been a weird winter with a bunch of warm days in January and now again a few days of warmer weather, so now I am craving all the summer produce.  This month's task is to get to know Plenty More by Ottolenghi.  I have cooked from his other cookbooks, but this one I think will be quite a favorite by the time we start getting all the wonderful fresh summer foods.



Dakos (Tomato and Cracker Salad)  (Serves 4)
This actually reminds me of the bread salads that Italian cookbooks offer, but it is a recipe based a Greek recipe.  I can image eating this in Greece as it has many of the components of a Greek salad (which does not have lettuce) while I spent a week on a smaller Greek Island.  This can only be better in summer, but it satisfied my craving for a salad just before Spring.

1 pound cherry tomatoes (find the sweetest ones you can), cut into halves
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (I used one with pomegranate in it)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
3.5-5 oz. rye crispbread, broken into about 1 inch pieces or smaller
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese(the closest I have been able to find to Greek feta is the Whole Foods 360 brand)
5-10 black olives (I used Kalamata olives), pitted and roughly cut
4 tablespoons Italian flat leaf parsley
salt and pepper

Put the tomatoes, red onion, vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a good grind of black pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon) in a large bowl, mix lightly and set aside.  I let mine sit for about 30 minutes so all the flavors and get mixed together.

Spread out crackers in the bottom of a salad bowl (divide into 4 bowls).  Spoon the tomato mixture equally on top of each set of crackers.  Sprinkle on feta cheese, olives, parsley and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Let sit for about 5 minutes before serving.  (Add additional salt or pepper if desired.)


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Brussel Sprouts with Chickpeas

Brussel sprouts are something I never ate as a kid.  I don't know if my mom didn't like them (which was the case with asparagus) or if they were not as widely available as they are now.  I remember eating them once when I lived in New Zealand, but I don't remember anything remarkable about them.  I don't remember hating them, now liking them.  But since I discovered how much I like them roasted, any other form of cooking them doesn't quite live up to the test.  I have had a different experience with chickpeas.  I like them in the form of hummus, but haven't found too many more ways that I really like them.  I did roast them once and I really liked the texture of how they turned out.  That being said, the method to cook these together was on the stove top, but I think both the brussel sprouts and the chickpeas would be better in the oven....next time I will have to do that instead.  (This recipe is adapted from Bitter by Jennifer McLagan.)


Brussel Sprouts and Chickpeas
1 can no salt added chickpeas (drained, thoroughly rinsed, and dried)
Salt and pepper to taste
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium shallot, finely diced
3/4 cup chicken stock
1.25 pounds brussel sprouts, outer leaves removed and cut in half
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Sprinkle chickpeas with salt.  Set aside.  Pour about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan with a lid and place over medium heat.  When hot, add the shallot and cook until lightly browned.  Add the chickpeas, season with salt and pepper, and cook until lightly browned.  Add about 1/4 cup of the chicken stock.  Deglaze the pan by bringing to a boil and scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Remove from heat and put into a bowl.

Return the pan to the heat and add an additional 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Put over high heat.  When the oil is hot add the brussel spouts.  Cook until dark, but not black.  Add the rest of the chicken stock, then season with salt and pepper.  Lower the heat and cover until the sprouts are tender, but still crisp.   Return the chickpea mixture to the pan.  Check the seasoning and add the balsamic vinegar.  Cooked until warmed throughout.  Remove from heat and serve.