Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"I'm never buying crackers again!"

That's what I said after making my own flatbread crackers last week. Well, they were delicious. But I did also buy crackers this weekend, so go figure. Anyhow, the best benefit was realizing how easy it was to make your own crackers! Here is how I did it.

I had my pasta maker out already, (stay tuned for pasta post), so I figured I'd take advantage of its rollers by making some flatbreads. I also had leftover semolina flour, which I combined with whole wheat flour for these simple flatbreads.

I followed these basic ratios of dry to wet ingredients....

1 cup semolina flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup warm water
1/2 tsp salt

...but was pleased to find how versatile the recipe was. I added some ground flaxseed and about 2 tbsp of raw sesame seeds to the batter and adjusted the liquid accordingly. The dough should be on the dry side, but all of the ingredients should be mixed together well.

I don't have a nifty stand mixer (next big kitchen purchase, when I'm not a soon-to-be-poor grad student!) so I kneaded the dough by hand for a few minutes until it seemed combined. Then I covered the bowl with a clean dish towel and let it sit for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, I preheated the over to 400 and put in the pizza stone. While the dough rested, I pulled together two different toppings: rosemary salt and cinnamon sugar.

For the rosemary salt, I used fresh rosemary, removing leaves from the stem and mixed them into a pile of kosher salt on the cutting board. I chopped the salt and rosemary together, and them mixed a little garlic powder and ground black pepper.

The cinnamon sugar was easy as pie - just mixed about 1/4 cup sugar with a few tablespoons of cinnamon.

Once the dough had rested, I divided the ball into about 8 pieces, and rolled them to desired thickness in my pasta roller (I went to level 4 on the roller). For the bigger pieces, I cut them into smaller strips, lay them out on the cutting board and sprayed them with my nifty olive oil sprayer. I then sprinkled with the toppings (did about 1/2 sweet and 1/2 savory).

I put the dough directly onto the pizza stone and cooked for about 5-10 minutes, keeping a close eye on them because they go from delightfully golden-brown to burned really quickly!

These crackers ended up being a really great snack! I ate the savory ones with pieces of delicious farmer's market white cheddar, and with some homemade hummus. The sweet ones were not at all overly sweet, so they were good either alone or with another farmer's market treat - lemon quark (which is essentially a fancy kind of cream cheese).

If you don't have a pasta roller or a pizza stone, don't be deterred! You can use a rolling pin (or even a wine bottle!) to roll out the dough and the crackers cook just fine on a cookie sheet. Happy baking!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The beauty of plain yogurt

About a year ago, I started making plain yogurt a staple in my fridge. I was thinking just now about breakfast and realized how many different ways I use plain yogurt, and what a versatile ingredient it is. So here is a quick post with some ideas on using plain yogurt:

- Yogurt Parfait: An obvious sounding one, but often people are turned off from plain yogurt because of its tangy taste. I remedy this with a drizzle of honey and a mixture of fruit. I really love the taste of citrus and yogurt, as well as pomegranate.

- Smoothies: My favorite smoothies include yogurt, banana, frozen spinach, flax seed, almond milk, vanilla and blueberries.

- Salad Dressing: I mix a little yogurt with some lemon juice, a splash of olive oil and a mixture of herbs for a creamier dressing.

- Yogurt cheese: Plain yogurt takes on a creamy, thicker texture when you drain some of the water out of it by setting it in a strainer over a bowl for a few hours. Once it has reached desired thickness, chop up some fresh herbs and use as a spread or a dip.

- Baking substitute: A lot of recipes call for buttermilk or whole milk, which I don't keep on hand. So I make my own concoction by mixing half yogurt and half milk together, which seems to work well!

I'm sure I'll think of other uses and will update the list at that point!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cornmeal pancakes

I'm beginning to realize that the majority of recipes I have blogged about heavily feature carbohydrates. What can I say - I love bready foods! As such, my recipe seeking eyes are constantly in tune to new recipes that deliver carbs in a healthy fashion. I knew I'd hit the jackpot in Mark Bittman's January 14th blog post in The Minimalist called "For Whole-Grain Pancakes, Try a Little Tenderness" I saved all of the recipes in the collection and this morning, after waking up to grey skies and cool temps, I decided it was time to experiment with the Cornmeal Pancakes with Vanilla and Pinenuts.

Here is the recipe that Bittman suggests, with my notes in italics:

Cornmeal Pancakes With Vanilla and Pine Nuts

Time: 30 minutes

1 1/2 cups fine or medium cornmeal (I used fine organic cornmeal and it worked well)

1 teaspoon salt (The one complaint I had was that the cakes came out really salty - I'd cut the salt in half next time)

1/2 cup milk, or more as needed (I accomplished my butter-making adventure yesterday, which I will blog about later, so I used the leftover buttermilk in this recipe, and it worked great. I did end up using more than the recipe called for, because I wanted flatter cakes. In all, I probably used between 3/4 and 1 cup)

2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil, plus more for frying (I choose to use extra virgin olive oil, figuring that it would give them somewhat bland sounding cakes an extra level of complexion)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I love vanilla so I dumped in more than a teaspoon - probably closer to 2 teaspoons)

1/2 cup pine nuts (I used about 1/4 a cup and it added the perfect amount of crunch)

Honey, for serving. (Because my honey is a crystalized mass now, I used maple syrup instead, which was of course delicious)

1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Combine the cornmeal, salt and 1 1/2 cups boiling water in a bowl and let it sit until the cornmeal absorbs the water and softens, 5 to 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the milk, a little at a time, until the batter is spreadable but still thick. Stir in 2 tablespoons oil, the vanilla and the pine nuts.

3. Put a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. When a few drops of water dance on its surface, add a thin film of oil and let it become hot. Spoon out the batter, making any size pancakes you like. Cook until bubbles form on the top and burst and the underside is golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes; turn and cook on the other side until golden. You may have to rotate the cakes to cook them evenly, depending on the heat source and pan. As they finish, transfer them to a plate in the oven while you cook the remaining batter. Serve with honey.

Overall, I'd say this was a yummy and really easy recipe. The flavor reminded me a little of arapas, and the cornmeal added a beautiful golden color and chewy texture. I'd definitely make these again and I think the recipe is stable enough to handle a variety of additions and alterations. I can imagine a savory one with herbs and cheese, and a sweeter one with blueberries and crushed almonds. If you end up making them, let me know how they come out!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Crunchy goodness

I recently went engagement ring shopping with a dear friend. Fine jewelry has never been her thing, and it was very amusing listening to her describe the many styles of diamonds we encountered. While she tried hard to remember technical terms like "pave" and "cushion cut", she ultimately resorted to referring to the diamonds as "sparklies", as in "I like this ring with all the sparklies around it".

As I looked over the following recipe, that story came to mind because when I think of this chopped salad, the best terms that come to mind are "crunchy goodness". I guess sometimes, the most simple explanations are just the most effective! (Because really when it comes down to it, aren't diamonds just sparklies?!)

Anyhow, I credit my old roommate Leah with turning me onto this delicious (and yes, crunchy) salad. The best part is that you can toss in whatever crunchy veggies you have on hand. And depending on the ingredients, it often tastes even better the next day! (The exception is when you use tomatoes, because they can get a little mushy. If you are planning to refrigerate, I suggest adding the tomatos right before serving.)

Chopped Salad

Any/all of the following:
1 cucumber, cut into 4ths lengthwise and then diced
½ cup grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
¼ cup olives (black or kalamata), chopped
¼ cup chopped red onion
1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
Handful of crumbled feta cheese (optional)
1 tbsp Olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
Salt and pepper

Cut up vegetables and toss with feta, oil and vinegar and lemon, if using. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar and let sit for 30 minutes. Can be made the night before, lasts for a few days. It is extra delicious with toasted pita bread. Sometimes I rip the bread into little pieces and toss with the salad, and sometimes I just enjoy it on the side.

Welcome back and series of recipes

Hi folks,

It's been ages since I've written, which is sad. I've decided to embrace my final few months of freedom by actually turning this blog into what it is supposed to be - a regularly updated repository of all my cooking and eating adventures, interspersed with snippets from my lovely life in Berkeley. As many of you know, I am making yet another cross country move this summer to pursue my MBA at the University of Michigan. While I've been promised that Ann Arbor has a happening local food movement, something tells me blogging won't be on the top of my insane to-do list while I am in school. So as I wrap up these last few months in the Bay Area, and actually have time to cook, I thought it would be lovely to share my experiments with you. I just told my roommate that before I leave, I want to do the following:

- Make my own butter
- Bake bread
- Make pasta from scratch

I'm sure I'll add lots of other things to the list, but that's my start - I think the butter effort will be easy to accomplish and I already bought the cream, so stay tuned for a recap of that in the next few days. Perhaps I'll also be motivated to bake the bread to put it

In the meantime, I wanted to kick off the re-blogging effort by sharing a few recipes that I developed for my friend Natalia. Like many, Natalia loves food but has not quite conquered the challenges of the kitchen. After a long discussion about ways to incorporate more fresh foods in her diet (I call it a discussion, she may refer to at as a lecture...:) I decided to type up some of my favorite easy recipes and make a little recipe book for her for Christmas.

I plan to post one recipe each day for the next few days (the other secret motivation for this is to help me get into the habit of blogging regularly!)

I thought it only appropriate to start with breakfast, and what's better for breakfast than delicious french toast?! Here you go....enjoy!

World’s easiest French toast

4 slices of bread (Any bread will do but my personal favorites are baguettes and challah bread)
1 large egg
1/3 cup of milk (nut milks work great too)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Butter, for pan

Scramble egg, milk and vanilla together in a large bowl. Dip bread into mixture and hold for a few seconds, until bread has absorbed the egg mixture. Heat a frying pan on medium and melt a little butter. Place bread in pan, cook until browned on one side (about 4-5 minutes), flip and brown on other side. Serve with real maple syrup and/or powdered sugar.