Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Sexy Staples’ Category

After I posted my basic bread recipe last week, I had several questions about a healthier/whole grain loaf. Good news: you can totally take my basic recipe & pump it up into a grainy, chewy, good-for-you loaf with minimal effort. How funky you make this bread is totally up to you; keep it easy with things you probably already have in your pantry, like rolled oats, sunflower seeds, & whole wheat flour, or branch out into more interesting flours like rye or barley, whole grains like bulghur wheat or wild rice, & tasty flax or millet. The world is your… um, bread oyster. Yeah.

This is just a variation on my original bread post, but I’m going to write out the full recipe & process again here, so you don’t have to click back & forth between posts if you’re making the whole grain version. I went with a round loaf for this one, rather than the oval from the original recipe, but you can make whatever shape suits your fancy.

Rolled oats, sunflower seeds, poppy & flax seeds, whole wheat flour

Whole Grain Bread

Yields 2 loaves

2 1/2 c water, milk, buttermilk, or a combination thereof

1 1/2 c rolled oats, multigrain hot cereal, bulghur/cracked wheat, wild rice, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or a combination thereof

Scant T salt

2-4 T sugar, honey, maple syrup (may be reduced or omitted)

4 T butter or vegetable oil

Scant T instant yeast

2 c whole wheat, rye, barley, or other whole grain flour

2-4 T seeds (poppy, flax, millet, sesame)

2 T vital wheat gluten (may be omitted)

Appx 3 c all purpose or bread flour, more as needed

Step 1: Hydrating your grains & starting your wet phase

At the end of this phase, you’ll have all of your liquid, salt, sweetener, fat, & any optional grains gently warmed & melted & ready for your flour & yeast.

Bring your 2 1/2 c of liquid to scalding, either by boiling water in a kettle, or heating your milk in a saucepan/in the microwave. While things are heating up, place your grains in your mixing bowl. Add your butter/oil, your optional sweetener, and your salt. When your liquid is really hot, pour it over the grains, etc., & stir to combine. Let sit uncovered for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally, until your grains are softened, your butter melted, & the mixture is only just warm, not hot, to the touch. When in doubt, let it cool a little more. This is your wet phase. Welcome!

Step 2: Adding yeast & flour

Once your wet phase is cooled (it should feel warm enough that it’s sort of nice to cuddle in the bowl, but definitely not the kind of temperature you’d want your bath, or your coffee), top it with your whole grain flour, your seeds, & your gluten, then add your yeast. Using a dough hook if you’re using a mixer, or your very clean hand, mix it together into a sloppy batter, making sure the yeast isn’t clumping up. Add another 2 cups flour & mix gently to combine into a sloppy dough. Add more flour 1/2 c at a time, mixing each addition in completely before adding more.

The final amount of flour will vary greatly depending on how thirsty your whole grains were, which whole grain flour you’re using, bread vs all purpose flour, the time of year, the age of your flour. Don’t just keep adding flour because the recipe calls for it; making bread is less about precision & more about intuition. Don’t panic, you got this!

As you add flour, your dough will start to pull together, & you’ll start to see the stretchy gluten strands developing. If you’re using a mixer, the dough will start to crawl up the hook & stick to the bottom of the bowl; this is totally okay. If you’re mixing by hand, take your time & try to keep your dominant hand in the dough while your other hand holds the bowl & adds the flour; you’ll end up less of a sticky mess this way.

The number one mistake bakers make is adding too much flour to their bread dough. Forget everything you ever heard about the dough having to clean the sides of the bowl before it’s ready; that’s only right for a few kinds of bread, & definitely not what we’re making here. You’re looking for a soft, stretchy dough that is starting to pull away from the bowl a little, but is still pretty sticky at the bottom. When you get to this stage, stop mixing, scrape the dough off your hands (an old gift/credit card is perfect for this), & let the dough rest for five minutes; this lets the flour finish absorbing the liquid in the dough, giving you a much better idea of the final texture of the dough.

After five minutes, mix the dough again for a few turns & decide if it needs a little more flour; it’s okay if it’s a little sticky, but you do want a dough that you can actually get out of the bowl without it oozing all over the counter.

Step 3: Kneading

When you’re satisfied with your dough texture, dust a little flour on your counter & turn the dough out onto it. Use your hands & your dough scraper/gift card to fold the edges into the center to make a rough ball, & dust it with a little more flour. Gently knead your dough for a few minutes to smooth it out:

Use your dominant hand to gently pull the top edge of your dough up & towards you & down, while your non-dominant hand cups the side of the dough reassuringly. Use the heel of your dominant hand to gently push that top edge down into the center of your dough, then away from you; think of it like cranking a handle towards you, up, towards you, down, away. Then use both hands to rotate the ball of dough a few inches around, & repeat your cranking motion – hey, you’re kneading bread!

Your dough will be a little sticky to handle at first; just keep dusting it very lightly with flour so you can keep your hands relatively clean. As you knead, your dough will magically tighten up, smooth out, & start to feel bouncy & springy & alive.

Step 4: The Rises

Once you get that magic bouncy feeling in your dough, enjoy it for a few more turns, then flip your dough over so the smooth side is on top, & plop it right back in your mixing bowl – no oil for you, sucker! A well kneaded dough doesn’t need it. Cover your bowl with plastic/beeswax wrap, or a cheap shower cap, & let it sit at room temperature to rise. You don’t need to put it somewhere particularly warm unless it’s the dead of winter & you don’t have heat; the residual warmth from the wet phase will be plenty of heat.

Neat trick: you can do steps 1 to 3 in the evening, after dinner, & instead of leaving your dough at room temperature, you can put it in the fridge to rise overnight. This does magical things in terms of flavor development & texture, & allows you to have freshly baked bread for brunch without getting up at 5 in the morning.

You can do a single rise, allowing your dough to double in size once before shaping it into loaves, but I like to do two rises; I find I get a better texture in the finished bread, & it tends to keep fresh a bit longer. But one rise is totally fine, especially if you’re new to the game.

Step 5: Shaping & Proofing

Once your dough has doubled your preferred number of times, enjoy the never-gets-old thrill of punching it down by gently plunging a very clean fist straight through the center of your dough. Listen to the hiss and praaaap of the built up air escaping, & marvel at the deliciously pillowy texture of your dough. It’s truly one of life’s best littlest joys.

Gently pull your dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured counter & pat it into a plump rectangle; don’t use a lot of force here, your dough doesn’t need to be bullied to do its job. Use your dough scraper or a knife to divide your dough into two mostly equal parts, & move one to the side.

Firmly but tenderly pat & press your first dough half into a rough square, then pull the corners into the center to start shaping your round loaf. Gently pull the edges into the center, too, working around until you have a nice round shape. Pinch your edges closed & turn your loaf over so the seam is on the bottom. Use the pinky edges of your hands to tuck around the edges of your loaf, gently shaping it into a plump round. Repeat with the other half of your dough.

If you want to get really sexy, spread about half a cup of rolled oats into an 8 inch circle on your counter. Spray or brush the top of your loaf with a bit of water, then gently pick it up & cradle it in your hand, top side up. Tenderly roll the wet surface of your dough in the oats, keeping your hand on the dough, rocking it around to get oats over as much of the surface as you can, then roll your hand back the way it came so your loaf is upright again. This is a spectacularly sexy & satisfying maneuver that will make you feel like A Real Bread Baker(tm).

Place your shaped loaves onto your baking pan of choice; I use a half sheet pan with a Silpat because I am lazy & don’t mind “rustic” shapes to my bread, but you can absolutely use lightly oiled round cake pans as well. Either way, once your loaves are situated, spray them liberally with cold water & leave to rise at room temperature. You don’t need to cover them unless you’re in a really drafty kitchen, or you think the cat will jump on the counter to investigate.

Preheat your oven to 375F, & allow your loaves to rise for about 40 minutes as the oven gets good & warm. Spray the oats with water every ten minutes or so, to keep them moist & improve their chances of staying on during baking.

Step 6: Baking

Check in on your loaves after about half an hour or proofing; they should be rising nicely. Gently prod a loaf with your finger; if your fingermark bounces back out, your loaves need a bit more time. If your fingermark stays, it’s time to get in the oven!

I don’t do any fancy glazes or scoring with these loaves; this is everyday bread, cut-to-the-chase bread, get-in-my-belly bread. I do use a serrated bread knife to make one shallow slash running the length of the loaf, just to help it expand in the oven. Be SUPER gentle when scoring your loaves; too much pressure or tugging/tearing will deflate them.

Once slashed, get your loaves in the oven with a minimum of door banging & pan slamming. Then leave them alone!

Check on your bread after half an hour; it will be big & beautiful & starting to brown. If your oven tends to cook unevenly, this is a good time to GENTLY turn your pans; again, to banging, no slamming.

After 45 minutes, your bread should smell amazing & be nearly done. Using oven mitts or a clean tea towel, gingerly turn a loaf over & knock on the bottom; if it sounds hollow & deep, it’s done! If it still sounds a little dense & flat, give it another ten minutes in the oven.

When you’re confident your bread is finished, pull it from the oven & let it cool on the pan for five minutes before transferring to a cooling rack; DON’T let it cool in the pan, unless soggy crusts are your thing.

Step 7: Waiting is the Hardest Part

I know, it’s torture, but let your bread cool for a minimum of twenty minutes, ideally an hour, before slicing into it. Cutting into hot bread is always disappointing; the starches are still gluey and the interior is doughy & sticks to the knife & it’ll give you heartburn for days. Trust me, let your bread settle & cool properly & you will be rewarded.

Once cooled, store your bread in a ziploc bag at cool room temperature, & it will keep for a week with no trouble. It also freezes beautifully, & makes a wonderful gift in these lonely times.

Thanks for reading, & I hope you can get baking soon!

Read Full Post »

So, we’re deeper into COVID-19 life, when it seems that all the world is baking bread. Which is fine, except that yeast has suddenly become impossible to find. If you managed to stock up on flour but missed the yeast, don’t panic. Irish soda bread is my weeknight go-to when I forgot to make bread over the weekend, or when I want something fast to satisfy my British baked goods cravings. It’s also a great place to start if you’re new to making bread from scratch; no special equipment, no funky ingredients. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand (who ever does?), use my favorite trick of mixing plain yoghurt (regular or Greek) with an equal amount of milk or even water in a pinch, or gently curdle regular milk with a little lemon juice. What’s important is that your liquid has some acidity to it, to activate the baking soda.

Irish soda bread is often made with whole wheat or graham flour, sweeteners, & lots of raisins, but that’s not what’s going on here. This is a plain white loaf that you can serve with dinner, breakfast, tea, & anytime in between. Adding in dried herbs, especially rosemary, make it nice with soup, & the fennel seed & raisins thing is a combination I’ve done for years; it’s so tasty & interesting, give it a try sometime.

Photo credit: Craig Lee for New York Times

Irish Soda Bread

Yields 1 loaf

Preheat oven to 375F, & line a baking sheet with parchment.

4 c all purpose flour

1 t baking soda

1 1/2 t salt

2 c buttermilk OR 1 c plain yoghurt & 1 c milk or water mixed until smooth OR 2 c milk & 2 T lemon juice mixed together

Optional 2 T dried herbs OR 2 T fennel seeds & 1/2 c raisins or golden raisins

Sift together the flour, baking soda & salt into a medium bowl. Stir in any herbs or additions. Add buttermilk & mix first with a fork, then with a rubber spatula, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl for any dry flour. The dough will be thick & sticky. Dust the counter with flour & turn out the dough, kneading gently two or three times just to make sure the dough is smooth & fully mixed. Pat into a round loaf & transfer to your prepared baking sheet. Use a serrated knife to score a large X into the top of the loaf & bake immediately; baking soda waits for no one!

Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until golden brown. Using oven mitts or a clean tea towel, gingerly turn your loaf over & knock on the bottom; if it sounds hollow & deep, it’s done! If it still sounds a little dense & flat, give it another five minutes in the oven.

Transfer to a cooling rack & let cool completely before slicing; much like yeasted bread, hot soda bread is gummy & gluey when sliced.

Since there’s little to no fat in this recipe, it won’t keep quite as long as other breads, so eat it in 1-2 days unless you are toasting it before eating.

 

Read Full Post »

The world is in a panic, cities are enacting shelter-in-place, & we are barely a week into what promises to be a very long spring devoid of social contact. I cannot wait until CORVID-19 is a distant chapter in the history books. Until then, here’s how to bake your own bread when the grocery store is barren and your spare loaves have all been eaten. The following assumes you have access to a few things like flour & yeast that, mind bogglingly, may not be readily available in your area right now. I am so sorry if this is the case, & hope it isn’t so for long. Here’s to better times. I love you all so much.

You can make this bread using a stand mixer, or do it all in a large mixing bowl by hand. I’ve not tried this recipe in a bread machine, so don’t quote me on that one.

Basic Yeast Bread

Yields two loaves

2 1/2 c water, milk, buttermilk, or a combination thereof

1- 1 1/2 c rolled oats, multigrain hot cereal, or bulghur wheat (optional)

Scant T salt

2-4 T sugar, honey, maple syrup (may be reduced or omitted)

2-4 T butter or vegetable oil

Scant T instant yeast

Appx 5 c all purpose or bread flour, more as needed (may substitute up to 2 c whole wheat flour)

Step 1: Hydrating your grains & starting your wet phase

At the end of this phase, you’ll have all of your liquid, salt, sweetener, fat, & any optional grains gently warmed & melted & ready for your flour & yeast. Depending on what add-ins you’re using, the method will be a little different:

If you’re using rolled oats, hot cereal, or bulghur wheat:

Bring your 2 1/2 c of liquid to scalding, either by boiling water in a kettle, or heating your milk in a saucepan/in the microwave. While things are heating up, place your grains in your mixing bowl. Add your butter/oil, your optional sweetener, and your salt. When your liquid is really hot, pour it over the grains, etc., & stir to combine. Let sit uncovered for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally, until your grains are softened, your butter melted, & the mixture is only just warm, not hot, to the touch. When in doubt, let it cool a little more. This is your wet phase. Welcome!

If you’re skipping the grains:

Gently warm your 2 1/2 c of liquid in a saucepan or microwave, & melt your butter, if applicable. Add to your mixing bowl along with your salt & optional sweetener, & stir to combine. Let cool for a few minutes until just warm. When in doubt, let it cool a little more. This is your wet phase. Salud!

Step 2: Adding yeast & flour

Once your wet phase is cooled (it should feel warm enough that it’s sort of nice to cuddle in the bowl, but definitely not the kind of temperature you’d want your bath, or your coffee), top it with about a cup of flour, then add your yeast. Using a dough hook if you’re using a mixer, or your very clean hand, mix it together into a sloppy batter, making sure the yeast isn’t clumping up. Add another 2 cups flour & mix gently to combine into a sloppy dough. Add more flour 1/2 c at a time, mixing each addition in completely before adding more.

The final amount of flour will vary greatly depending on if you used the hot grains, any whole wheat flour, bread vs all purpose flour, the time of year, the age of your flour. Don’t just keep adding flour because the recipe calls for it; making bread is less about precision & more about intuition. Don’t panic, you got this!

As you add flour, your dough will start to pull together, & you’ll start to see the stretchy gluten strands developing. If you’re using a mixer, the dough will start to crawl up the hook & stick to the bottom of the bowl; this is totally okay. If you’re mixing by hand, take your time & try to keep your dominant hand in the dough while your other hand holds the bowl & adds the flour; you’ll end up less of a sticky mess this way.

The number one mistake bakers make is adding too much flour to their bread dough. Forget everything you ever heard about the dough having to clean the sides of the bowl before it’s ready; that’s only right for a few kinds of bread, & definitely not what we’re making here. You’re looking for a soft, stretchy dough that is starting to pull away from the bowl a little, but is still pretty sticky at the bottom. When you get to this stage, stop mixing, scrape the dough off your hands (an old gift/credit card is perfect for this), & let the dough rest for five minutes; this lets the flour finish absorbing the liquid in the dough, giving you a much better idea of the final texture of the dough.

After five minutes, mix the dough again for a few turns & decide if it needs a little more flour; it’s okay if it’s a little sticky, but you do want a dough that you can actually get out of the bowl without it oozing all over the counter.

Step 3: Kneading

When you’re satisfied with your dough texture, dust a little flour on your counter & turn the dough out onto it. Use your hands & your dough scraper/gift card to fold the edges into the center to make a rough ball, & dust it with a little more flour. Gently knead your dough for a few minutes to smooth it out:

Use your dominant hand to gently pull the top edge of your dough up & towards you & down, while your non-dominant hand cups the side of the dough reassuringly. Use the heel of your dominant hand to gently push that top edge down into the center of your dough, then away from you; think of it like cranking a handle towards you, up, towards you, down, away. Then use both hands to rotate the ball of dough a few inches around, & repeat your cranking motion – hey, you’re kneading bread!

Your dough will be a little sticky to handle at first; just keep dusting it very lightly with flour so you can keep your hands relatively clean. As you knead, your dough will magically tighten up, smooth out, & start to feel bouncy & springy & alive.

Step 4: The Rises

Once you get that magic bouncy feeling in your dough, enjoy it for a few more turns, then flip your dough over so the smooth side is on top, & plop it right back in your mixing bowl – no oil for you, sucker! A well kneaded dough doesn’t need it. Cover your bowl with plastic/beeswax wrap, or a cheap shower cap, & let it sit at room temperature to rise. You don’t need to put it somewhere particularly warm unless it’s the dead of winter & you don’t have heat; the residual warmth from the wet phase will be plenty of heat.

Neat trick: you can do steps 1 to 3 in the evening, after dinner, & instead of leaving your dough at room temperature, you can put it in the fridge to rise overnight. This does magical things in terms of flavor development & texture, & allows you to have freshly baked bread for brunch without getting up at 5 in the morning.

You can do a single rise, allowing your dough to double in size once before shaping it into loaves, but I like to do two rises; I find I get a better texture in the finished bread, & it tends to keep fresh a bit longer. But one rise is totally fine, especially if you’re new to the game.

Step 5: Shaping & Proofing

Once your dough has doubled your preferred number of times, enjoy the never-gets-old thrill of punching it down by gently plunging a very clean fist straight through the center of your dough. Listen to the hiss and praaaap of the built up air escaping, & marvel at the deliciously pillowy texture of your dough. It’s truly one of life’s best littlest joys.

Gently pull your dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured counter & pat it into a plump square; don’t use a lot of force here, your dough doesn’t need to be bullied to do its job. Use your dough scraper or a knife to divide your dough into two mostly equal parts, & move one to the side.

Firmly but tenderly pat & press your first dough half into a rough rectangle, then roll it into a cylinder, starting at a short side of the rectangle. Apply a little bit of traction as you roll, just to stretch the outer surface of the dough a little. Pinch your edges closed & turn your loaf over so the seam is on the bottom. Use the pinky edges of your hands to tuck around the edges of your loaf, gently shaping it into a vague oval. Repeat with the other half of your dough.

Place your shaped loaves onto your baking pan of choice; I use a half sheet pan with a Silpat because I am lazy & don’t mind “rustic” shapes to my bread, but you can absolutely use lightly oiled standard loaf pans as well. Either way, once your loaves are situated, spray them liberally with cold water & leave to rise at room temperature. You don’t need to cover them unless you’re in a really drafty kitchen, or you think the cat will jump on the counter to investigate.

Preheat your oven to 375F, & allow your loaves to rise for about 40 minutes as the oven gets good & warm.

Before

After

Step 6: Baking

Check in on your loaves after about half an hour or proofing; they should be rising nicely. Gently prod a loaf with your finger; if your fingermark bounces back out, your loaves need a bit more time. If your fingermark stays, it’s time to get in the oven!

I don’t do any fancy glazes or scoring with these loaves; this is everyday bread, cut-to-the-chase bread, get-in-my-belly bread. I do use a serrated bread knife to make one shallow slash running the length of the loaf, just to help it expand in the oven. Be SUPER gentle when scoring your loaves; too much pressure or tugging/tearing will deflate them.

Once slashed, get your loaves in the oven with a minimum of door banging & pan slamming. Then leave them alone!

Check on your bread after half an hour; it will be big & beautiful & starting to brown. If your oven tends to cook unevenly, this is a good time to GENTLY turn your pans; again, to banging, no slamming.

After 45 minutes, your bread should smell amazing & be nearly done. Using oven mitts or a clean tea towel, gingerly turn a loaf over & knock on the bottom; if it sounds hollow & deep, it’s done! If it still sounds a little dense & flat, give it another ten minutes in the oven.

When you’re confident your bread is finished, pull it from the oven & let it cool on the pan for five minutes before transferring to a cooling rack; DON’T let it cool in the pan, unless soggy crusts are your thing.

Step 7: Waiting is the Hardest Part

I know, it’s torture, but let your bread cool for a minimum of twenty minutes, ideally an hour, before slicing into it. Cutting into hot bread is always disappointing; the starches are still gluey and the interior is doughy & sticks to the knife & it’ll give you heartburn for days. Trust me, let your bread settle & cool properly & you will be rewarded.

Once cooled, store your bread in a ziploc bag at cool room temperature, & it will keep for a week with no trouble. It also freezes beautifully, & makes a wonderful gift in these lonely times.

Thanks for reading, & I hope you can get baking soon!

 

Read Full Post »

Every summer, I get a handful of questions about how I’m preserving the glut of local tomatoes that end up on my counter, so here’s the process I use. I love oven roasting as opposed to the more traditional water bath peeling for two reasons: no boiling pots of water steaming up my kitchen, & roasting concentrates the juices a little, unlike the watery results from the traditional method. I do about 25 pounds of tomatoes in a session, & while it takes a few hours in total, there’s not much fussy attention that needs to be paid, so I can do other stuff while the tomatoes are roasting & cooling.

I get my tomatoes in bulk from our local produce vendor; I wait until we are well into the season, then put in a request for a case of seconds, usually coming in at about a dollar a pound. These vary in quality from barely scuffed to on the verge of liquefying, depending on the year & the recent weather. Judicious trimming & oven roasting makes the most of sub-par fruit, another reason I love it so much.

We snagged a small chest freezer a few years ago, so that’s how I store my finished tomatoes, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t pack these in mason jars & can them in a water bath in the traditional manner. (Ball has a good basic methodology, but TL;DR: hot pack, add extra acid, get all the air bubbles out, water process for freaking EVER.)

tom1

Oven Processed Tomatoes

Preheat oven to 400F, & have ready one or two rimmed baking sheets.

Fresh tomatoes, any size or variety (I find traditional, high acid reds work best – low acid yellows & black/purple varieties lose some of their charm when cooked)

Halve or quarter your tomatoes, depending on the size, cutting out any woody stem bits & funky spots, & arrange them cut side up on the baking sheet (no oil or parchment needed). Roast for 20-40 minutes, until the juices are flowing & the tomatoes are softened. You’re not looking for browning or complete collapse, just an overall slumping & relaxing.

tom1

Transfer your tomatoes to a large heatproof bowl/pot, big enough to hold the full amount of tomatoes you’re processing. Continue cutting & roasting tomatoes (no need to wash the sheet pans between batches).

As each batch you’ve transferred to the bowl cools enough to handle, use your fingers to slip off the skins – they’ll pull off nicely in one big piece if you’ve cooked your tomatoes long enough. Under ripe tomatoes might need a bit longer in the oven to peel nicely. By the time you’ve peeled one sheet pan of tomatoes, the next will probably be ready to come out of the oven. It’s a nice, low-key rhythm of cutting, roasting, cooling, peeling, & cutting some more.

When all your tomatoes are peeled, you can:

  • Pack them into containers or freezer bags as they are, for big chunky tomatoes
  • Crush them by hand for rustic crushed tomatoes
  • Puree them with an immersion blender for finely crushed tomato sauce
  • Or run them through a food mill/Squeez-O Strainer for a super fine puree with no seeds

tom1

 

My goal every summer is to process enough tomatoes that I don’t have to buy any canned for the entire year; sometimes I make it, sometimes I don’t, but it’s a nice challenge. I’m doing fifty pounds this year, so we’ll see how that holds up.

Happy roasting!

 

Read Full Post »

olives

I started making baked olives a few years ago, and they’ve grown to be a hotly anticipated part of our holiday feasting. Plush & aromatic & salty & luxurious, they are a quick, easy contribution to pot lucks & parties that make you look like Someone With Their Shit Together.

First, buy a mess of your favorite olives: jarred or from the grocery store olive bar, whichever you like. For the batch pictured, I used all jarred olives, available on the shelf at our local supermarket: jumbo Spanish, kalamatas, unpitted oil cured, & super mild & buttery castelvetranos.

Preheat your oven to 350F, drain your olives, & dump them into an oven safe baking dish. Toss them with a big slosh of good olive oil, a smaller slosh of balsamic vinegar, lots of pepper, and your favorite aromatics. (I use a ton of fresh sliced garlic, orange or lemon zest, fennel seeds, rosemary, & a pinch of red pepper flakes.) Spread your olives out evenly in the dish, & slide it (uncovered) in the oven. Stir them once in a while as they bake, & pull them once all the olives look nice and relaxed & the garlic has softened, maybe 30-45 minutes depending on the size of your dish.

You can also totally cheat and do them in the microwave – cook in 2-minute intervals, stirring regularly, until soft and yummy.

Let your olives cool a little before serving, or cool completely, cover & refrigerate until needed – they’ll keep about a month before the garlic starts to go mushy. Reheat in a low oven, or just let them come to room temperature before serving.

Serve with fancy cheeses & salamis & crusty bread – use the bread to sop up the olivey juices left in the dish, because life is too short to waste that kind of deliciousness. Pack up the leftovers for work the next day & revel in your grown-up Lunchable.

oli

Read Full Post »

J works for the local college, at a suit & tie job involving lots of data & numbers & statistics & whatnot. He is a complex & highly entertaining man, however, & a few years ago commandeered a sunny patch of his building’s landscaping for a tiny vegetable garden to take the place of our now defunct neighborhood plot. Tucked in among the decorative shrubbery, he’s grown hot peppers, herbs, & lots & lots of tomatoes. This year’s Romas did particularly well, as did a lovely low acid yellow salad variety. It’s pretty great when your husband brings home gorgeous tomatoes all summer long.

Alas, it is mid October, & they’re forecasting our first real frost this weekend. This means certain death for the tomatoes, so J picked all the remaining green ones & brought them home for me to play with.

Fried green tomatoes are super, but with such small fruits, they would have been a pain in the butt to do with these particular tomatoes. I know there are green tomato jam recipes out there, but that’s just one hurdle I can’t get over. But what I can get behind is chutney.

I grew up on cheese & chutney the way most kids grow up on PB & J. Cold, or run under the broiler til the cheese bubbled merrily, a thick layer of Branston Pickle under sharp cheddar is still one of my favorite lunches. A few years ago, I started playing with micro batches of home made chutney, & while they’re no Branston, they certainly get the job done when you need that sweet, vinegary, spicy crunch to offset a tasty cheese.

A lot of green tomato chutney recipes call for apples & more sugar than vinegar – I’ve tried that, & the end result has been just too darn sweet for my taste. This year, I dialed back the sugar, left out the apples, & added some more savory accoutrements. I won’t know for a few weeks if I have a total winner, but fresh out of the pot, it’s pretty darn good.

Which is comforting, as I only used half of the green tomatoes I chopped. Oy.

Note: I use whole spices in my chutney, which soften significantly as they cook down, but still pack an entertaining punch when bitten into. If this isn’t your bag, feel free to put them in a muslin sachet or tea ball that can be fished out after your chutney has finished cooking.

***

Savory Green Tomato Chutney

Makes appx 7 8-ounce jars

12 c diced green/barely ripe tomatoes

2 large red onions, diced

8 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

2 c vinegar (I used half red wine, half standard white)

2 c light brown sugar

1 T brown mustard seeds

2 T yellow mustard powder

2 t ground ginger

1 T whole black peppercorns

1 T whole juniper berries

2 t whole allspice berries

1/2 t red pepper flakes

Appx 1 T salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients except the salt in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Bring to a boil & simmer lively for approximately two hours, stirring frequently as the liquid begins to evaporate. When volume has reduced by half & all the vegetables have turned completely translucent, add salt to taste. Simmer for another 5 minutes, then pack into sterilized jars & water process. Alternatively, let cool, pack into clean jars & refrigerate, using within 3 months. You can also freeze your chutney in smaller plastic containers if that’s more your style.

Serve cold with sharp cheese, charcuterie platters, pork dishes, or even as an accompaniment to Indian curries.

But mostly with cheese.

View this post on Instagram

Nyom. #chutney #jamonit #eatcheap #eatlocal #tomatoes

A post shared by The High Saponatrix (@paintboxsoapworks) on

Read Full Post »

Confession time: I really, REALLY like putting stuff in jars. Specifically, I love making jam.

Arty jam shelf

Every year, I pack the cupboard with micro batches of local fruit jam, my way of hanging onto the best parts of summer. Peach is the house favorite, but I’m partial to plum & cherry, as well. Home canning isn’t nearly as intimidating as I’d once thought, & discovering low-sugar pectin kind of rocked my world.

But. We’re not here to talk jam. Not this day.

It’s fall in south central PA, which means apples, apples, & more apples!

Yellow Delicious

A few weeks ago, Small Bear was invited to go apple picking with a friend, & came home with half a bushel of lovely local Yellow Delicious apples. Yellow Delicious aren’t my first choice of cooking apples – I tend to prefer the more tart varieties – but when life gives you an abundance apples, you go with it. Applesauce is the usual method of preserving pick-your-own apples, which is a fantastic project for a Sunday afternoon. This year, I wanted something different. Something silky & luxurious & undeniably APPLE. This called for making apple butter.

Apple butter is an ubiquitous part of fall in our part of the US. Thick, deep brown, & traditionally packed with spices, it gets cooked down for hours in open iron vats at apple festivals, scenting the air with clove & cinnamon & smoke. Here in Pennsylvania Dutch country, apple butter’s put on cottage cheese as a side vegetable (no, really), but it’s more commonly used in baking or as a spread. Personally, I love it with peanut butter on whole grain toast, or slathered over my pancakes.

My main complaint with most apple butters, though, is that in the end, they don’t really taste like APPLES. Traditional recipes call for spiced cider, as well as a healthy measure of cinnamon & cloves. Tasty, but a bit of a sledgehammer of spices, if you ask me. I wanted something a little more sophisticated, so I started with Marisa’s basic fruit butter recipe & improvised from there.

Peeling like my grandma used to

Vanilla Bourbon Apple Butter

Yields about 6-8 8-ounce jars

16 medium/large apples, peeled & coarsely chopped

1/2 c water

1/2-1 c dark brown sugar (adjust the amount based on the variety of apples you’re using, & your personal taste)

3 T lemon juice

1 vanilla bean, split

Half a whole nutmeg, grated finely

1/2 t ground cinnamon

Pinch salt

1/4-1/2 c bourbon or whiskey

Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy bottomed pot (if you have a Lodge, this is the perfect project for it; you can also do this in a slow cooker). Cook over medium to low heat, stirring frequently over the course of an hour or two, until the apples have broken down and you can smash them easily against the side of the pan with your spoon.

Before

After!

Turn off the heat, pick out your vanilla beans & stick blend your apples into silky unctuousness. (If you don’t have a stick blender, a food mill or food processor will do the job just as well, if a bit messily.) Continue to cook over low heat for another half hour or so, stirring more frequently than before as your butter will be more inclined to scorch as it thickens. Taste as you go, adding more sugar, lemon or spices as you feel necessary. Keep in mind that warm apple butter will taste sweeter/stronger than when it has chilled, but that the spices will continue to bloom as it sits in the jars on the shelf.

Cook until you have a thick, cohesive sauce that leaves a pretty clear trail when you scrape the spoon across the bottom of the pot, & that stands up in peaks when dropped from the spoon back into the pot. Do a final taste for sweetness, & voila! Apple butter that smells – & tastes – like heaven, not a cinnamon stick billy club.

Vanilla Bourbon Apple Butter

Ladle your hot butter into clean jars & either cool with the lids off & refrigerate/freeze, or process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. (I’ll cover hot water processing at some point soon, I promise. For now, check out Marisa’s amazing blog, Food in Jars, for an introduction.)

Read Full Post »

We’re silly huge Pixar fans, & I worked in the restaurant industry for years, so it’s a mystery to me why it took us so long to see Ratatouille. It was a fantastic film, with lots of food porn & industry jokes & a minimum of my usual shouting at the TV about horrible kitchen practices.

More importantly, it got me thinking about ratatouille.

Specifically, Mum’s ratatouille.

Summer bounty

My folks are from England, but moved to Montreal when they got married in the late 60s. Mum has a lovely library of her old cookbooks from that era, deliciously “modern” guides to entertaining with photos of impossibly glossy architectural feats of Spam & asparagus. One of my favorite things to do as a child (and even now) was to leaf through the flour-filmed pages & plot exorbitant menus…

Mum’s sense of adventure & our time in francocentric Montreal meant that a lot of our routine meals were well beyond the standard family fare. I grew up eating warm crepes with lemon & sugar, salmon en croute, chicken & apricot curries, all sorts of fabulous stuff. But Mum’s mainstay was ratatouille.

Served over brown rice, ratatouille was Mum’s go-to, the dish that popped up with such regularity that when I think of the kitchen in our old house, it smells like tomatoes & peppers & herbs. I assumed everyone ate ratatouille, or something like it. It was veggie stew, really, just with a little pizzazz. No big deal, right?

Then in 3rd grade, I got the bright idea to invite The Popular Girl over for dinner. She didn’t usually give me much more than the time of day, so I don’t know what possessed her to accept, but the evening came & there she was, sitting at our table & trying to figure out what to do with a cloth napkin. Mum understood the need to play it cool – or else she didn’t feel like slaving in the kitchen all day – so she went with the house favorite. Ratatouille, piping hot, over a pile of fluffy, chewy brown rice.

I don’t remember exactly how things played out after Popular Girl got her plate, but it amounted to her declaring that she ONLY ate “chicken, hot dogs, and BASGETTI”. I think Mum dug a few hot dogs out of the freezer & ran them under the broiler to try & salvage the evening, but Popular Girl went home hungry & huffy and I went to bed thoroughly baffled as to how someone so popular could insist on eating like a 3-year-old. It was a bit of a pivotal moment for me, figuring out that popularity had nothing to do with actually being cool…

Crappy phone picture is crappy

So, fast forward thirty-some years, & my 8-year-old is growing up eating all kinds of crazy food just like his mum. I honestly hadn’t made ratatouille for years, but seeing the film made me crave it again, & got C excited to try something new. Ratatouille is perfect for this time of year, late summer/early autumn, when tomatoes & peppers & eggplant are still coming in from the garden, but the weather’s turning cool & inviting. It’s not a difficult dish to make at all, taking little more than chopping & tending for an hour or two, but it hinges on good fresh vegetables. For the love of Pete, don’t make this in February with out-of-season produce – it’ll be… fine. But ratatouille shouldn’t be fine. It should be a late summer symphony in a bowl, rich & bright & so tasty, you want a chunk of bread to sop up the traces left on your plate.

(A word on eggplant: if you don’t like eggplant, I’d argue that you’re cooking it wrong. Done properly, eggplant is smoky & flavorful, not bitter & chewy. Pick small eggplants, with nice tight, glossy skins. Salting the eggplant draws out a lot of moisture & potential bitterness, so don’t skip that step. Finally, make sure you add it early enough in the process that it gets fully cooked & absorbs all the gorgeous flavors of the sauce.)

***

Ratatouille

As usual, this is a total make-it-up-as-I-go recipe, so all amounts are approximate… Yield: about 2 1/2 quarts

1 small/medium traditional eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 t sea salt

1/4 c olive oil

2 medium yellow onions, sliced thin (I like to cut mine end-to-end, instead of across the center, but it totally doesn’t matter)

6-8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

3-4 bell peppers, assorted colors, cut into rough 3/4-inch pieces

2 small/medium summer squash and/or zucchini, cut into 3/4 inch cubes

2 t dry thyme

1/2 c chopped fresh basil

1 t smoked paprika (yes, smoked, but regular will do in a pinch)

1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, crushed roughly by hand

1 c dry white wine (I use pinot grigio)

Salt & pepper to taste

Sprinkle the eggplant with 1 t of sea salt & pile it into a colander to drain for about 20 minutes while you start the rest of the veggies.

Warm the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot (if you don’t own a Lodge, get on that – best money you’ll ever spend) over medium heat & add onions. Saute gently with a pinch of salt until soft & translucent. Add chopped garlic & saute for a few more minutes, until fragrant.

Add peppers, stir & let cook while you tend to the eggplant.

Rinse the salted eggplant under cold water & give it a really good shake to get rid of excess moisture. Add it to the pot, along with the summer squash/zucchini. Stir everything well & let it cook until the squash starts to get bright. Add the herbs, paprika, tomatoes & wine & stir well. Add a bit of water if things look too dry, but not too much – this is stew, not soup. Bring the pot up to a lively simmer, stirring frequently, then lower the heat so you have a nice gentle bubbling. Leave your spoon in the pot & add the lid so the pot’s mostly covered but not sealed tight.

Let your ratatouille simmer away for at least an hour, stirring on occasion to make sure nothing’s sticking to the bottom of the pot. Your kitchen will smell REALLY FREAKING GOOD at this point. After an hour, take of the lid & let it simmer another 15 minutes or so to reduce the sauce a little. Taste for salt & pepper.

Warm up some crusty bread, pour yourself a glass of wine, and devour. A few shakes of hot sauce (we like the chipotle Tabasco) would not be amiss, nor would some good goat cheese to spread on your bread.

Bon appetit!

Read Full Post »

(If you’re wondering What’s for Dinner lately, hell if I know. It’s been stupidly hot & muggy for the past week or two, & none of us have felt much like eating, let alone cooking. I have a pile of odds & ends to use up this week, & then we’ll be back on schedule, promise…)

Making yoghurt (Yes, yoghurt. You can take the girl out of England…) is a totally nostalgic thrill for me. When I was 6, we moved from the shady suburbs to a little 7-acre farm in the country. My folks dove headfirst into self-sufficiency with all the zealousness they could muster; we raised cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits, goats, the lot. We have memories both heartbreaking & hilarious of those years, & while we’ve all moved on to other pursuits, some lessons still remain.

Our sole dairy cow was a long-lashed, caramel-flanked beauty named Guinevere, & she blessed us with gallon upon gallon of gorgeous, thick milk. Mum & I tried our hand at butter & cheese a few times, but making yoghurt in our little blue-topped incubator became a weekly ritual. Years later, when I found a set of jars & a warmer for $5 at a local yard sale, it seemed a sign that it was time for me to take up spoon & thermometer again.

You don’t need any special equipment to make good yoghurt, but a few key tools will give you a better chance of success: a stem thermometer (or a glass candy thermometer) & an incubator. Temperature is key when making yoghurt, & these two things will help you get your milk to the right temperature & ensure it stays there long enough to make the transformation. If you are feeling rogueish, you can skip the incubator & jars & use a heavy lidded casserole dish instead – use a pile of old towels to insulate the dish. I’m on the lookout for an old wide-mouthed Thermos, myself…

As for ingredients, you only need two things: milk & starter. Use the best, freshest milk you can get your hands on. This is the time to track down a local dairy & start getting your milk in glass, not cardboard. Yes, you can make perfectly good yoghurt with a national brand, but if you’re going to all this trouble, why not make it special? Whole milk makes a truly luxurious yoghurt; we’re watching our diets, so we use skim with excellent results.

You can buy packets of powdered starter, but I’ve never had much luck with them – my yoghurt would always get watery & broken. Get a small tub of plain, live cultured yoghurt from the grocery store & you should be fine. I’m finding Chobani the best option so far in terms of final texture.

To start, boil a kettle of water & use it to rinse everything you’ll be using: a 2-3 quart saucepan, a wooden spoon, a small cup & fork for mixing the starter, a stem thermometer, & your jars for incubating the yoghurt (including the lids). Let your equipment air dry. Cleanliness is the other important factor when making yoghurt – we want our milk to cultivate the good beasties, not the bad.

Measure out enough milk to nearly fill your jars – the actual amount will vary according to what brand of jars you’re using. Pour the milk into the saucepan & heat it gently over medium/low flame, stirring often, until it reaches about 190F. Keep an eye on it – milk will boil over horribly if left to its own devices. Once it reaches 190F, turn off the heat & move the pan to a trivet. Stir gently & allow the milk to cool to 110F (this can take 10-15 minutes).

Meanwhile, put your jars in the incubator & plug it in to pre-warm.

Once your milk has cooled to 110F, add your starter: for every 2.5 cups/600 ml of milk, use 1 tablespoon of your starter yoghurt. Put the starter in your small cup & add a slosh of cooled milk, whisking it with a fork until very, very smooth. Add this back to the saucepan & stir thoroughly to evenly distribute the starter. Carefully pour your milk into the prepared jars, add lids, & cover the incubator. Do this all fairly quickly so your mixure doesn’t lose too much heat.

Now, the waiting game. I find that my incubator needs a full 8 hours to get my yoghurt to the consistency I like, so I tend to make it in the morning & pull the plug around dinnertime. Check yours after 4-5 hours & see how it’s progressing – look for a nice, solid texture without too much wateriness. When in doubt, let it go a bit longer.

Once it’s ready, transfer your yoghurt to the fridge & let it chill overnight before assessing the final texture. It might take you a few tries to find the right combination of starter & incubation time – just be patient. It’ll be well worth the wait. Promise.

Read Full Post »

I love little vegetable pancakes for dinner when it’s hot – they feel a little special, but don’t mean heating up the kitchen for too long. And you can make them out of nearly anything, including leftovers.

I’d made some corny quinoa as a side dish earlier in the week, & as usual, made too much. It was delicious, but I felt like doing something more than just a warm-through with the leftovers. We make zucchini feta pancakes fairly regularly during the summer, & I thought I’d try a similar spin with the quinoa. They were gorgeous, golden brown & lightly crisp at the edges, the quinoa popping gently when you bit into them. The 2-second pepper sauce was pretty inspired, too – we’ve had it with several other meals since.

Quinoa is an exceptionally nutritious grain, packed with complete proteins, iron, calcium & magnesium. It’s gluten-free, too, so try subbing in a G-F flour in the fritter recipe below. The important thing to remember when cooking with quinoa is to rinse the raw grains really well before cooking. Quinoa has a coating of bitter saponin, & failing to rinse that off results in a pot of soapy-tasting nastiness.

***

Corny Quinoa Fritters

Makes about 12 3-inch pancakes

2/3 c raw quinoa, rinsed well in cold water

Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil, salt lightly & add the rinsed quinoa. Lower the heat to a lively simmer & cook until the grains are plump, tender & fully translucent, about 15 minutes at most. Drain & transfer to a large bowl.

1 leek, sliced thinly & rinsed well

2 T olive oil

1 1/2 c corn kernels (fresh, tinned or frozen)

Small handful of fresh basil leaves, finely shredded

Salt & pepper to taste

Saute the leeks in the olive oil, over medium heat, until they start to go golden & crisp at the edges. Add the corn & heat through. Add the cooked quinoa, basil & seasonings & warm gently. You can stop at this point & have a really lovely side dish that serves 2-3.

Transfer the quinoa mixture to a large bowl & allow to cool.

3 T all purpose flour

3 eggs, beaten

Optional: 1/2 c crumbled feta cheese

Toss the flour into the quinoa to evenly coat everything, then fold in the beaten egg & feta to make a rather wet, thick batter.

Heat 2-3 T vegetable oil in a heavy skillet & fry the batter in small pancakes, turning as the top begins to set & cooking until the edges are nice & crisp. Hold the cooked pancakes on a warm plate until the rest have been cooked. Serve plain, with warmed tomato sauce, or Red Pepper Sauce:

2-Second Red Pepper Sauce

Puree one large roasted red pepper with 2-3 T thick Greek yoghurt. Add salt & pepper to taste. Serve room temperature or chilled.

I served our quinoa fritters with sauteed squash, a delightful room-temperature side dish for the summer:

Summer Squash Sauté

Heat 2 T each of unsalted butter & olive oil in a large heavy skillet. When the butter has melted, add 2 quartered & sliced zucchini and/or yellow summer squash & toss the pan gently to coat the vegetables with the butter & oil. Turn up the heat to high & let the squash cook undisturbed for 3-4 minutes. Toss or stir well & continue to cook in 3-4 minute increments until most of the squash has turned golden at the edges & the excess moisture has mostly evaporated. Turn into a heat-proof bowl & finish with fresh thyme (lemon thyme is particularly nice here), salt & pepper. Let cool slightly before serving.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »