Low Carb and Still Delicious Food

As you know by now, the Hubby is on a low carb, low sugar live-it (see what I did there?).  As such, it’s hard to whip up low-carb/sugar food and have it be tasty.  Traditionally, I am a from scratch cook, and it’s been helpful with this new transition that I have that experience.  Hubby loves pizza and bread and cake, so for him it’s been a big change.  50 lbs and a little more than a year later, he has adapted pretty well.  Initially to sub for all the bread and pizza, we went the cauliflour route, until he started to have a bad reaction to it.  Yes, there is such thing as too much cauliflour!  After that period (cauliflour pizza crust, tater tots, tortillas, fried rice and on and on) I looked into non-traditional flours.  I recently landed upon a lovely cake that we always have at our favorite tapas place in Detroit, La Feria.

Have you ever heard of the Camino del Santiago?  It’s a pilgrimage walk that people have been making in Spain for hundreds of years.  It’s about 500 miles long, and you do it all on foot.  There is a great movie about it, starring Martin Sheen called “The Way”.  At the end of the journey, people would be treated to a cake called Torte del Santiago.  It’s a lovely flourless cake, made with almond meal, orange and lemon zest.  So good, it keeps moist for a while thanks to the almond meal.  It’s very easy to make too, so try it and let me know how it goes!

I will begin by saying, while you can do this entirely by hand, using a hand held mixer or a stand mixer will make this a doddle for you.  If you decide to use a whisk, you’ll be earning your reward!

Torta del Santiago

  • 2 1/4 cups finely ground almond meal
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar (if you can find superfine, it’s a help)
  • zest of 2 oranges and one lemon
  • teaspoon of good almond or vanilla extract
  • 6 large eggs, separated (at room temperature if possible)

Preheat your oven to 350° F.  Lightly butter an 11 inch springform pan and line it in the bottom with parchment, and butter that too.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the egg yolks and sugar.  I usually use the paddle attachment for this, and I start low and slow to dissolve the sugar in the yolks.  After the sugar is dissolved, turn the mixer up to high and let it run for a while.  You’re looking for a very light yellow color and a very creamy and stiff texture.  I usually just turn it on and let it go while I clean up and get everything else ready.  Once the proper texture is reached, slowly incorporate the almond flour, zest and almond extract, you can use the same mixer.  The final mixture should be quite thick and stiff.  That’s exactly where you want it.

In another clean bowl*, beat the egg whites to very stiff peaks.  It will likely take 7 – 8 minutes at high.  Again, it’s helpful to just break them up initially, then put the mixer on high and walk off for a while.

Using a large wooden or metal spoon (think salad tongs size), take 1/3 the egg whites and add to the yolk and almond mixture.  Use the spoon to firmly beat them into the mixture, it’s ok if the eggs lose most of their air.  This is called slackening, and it lightens up the heavy mixture enough so you can fold in the remaining egg whites with ease. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites, being careful not to deflate them too much.  The eggs give the cake it’s lightness and rise.

Carefully spoon the mixture into the lined and buttered springform pan, use the back of a spoon to smooth the top.  Bake in the 350° oven for 45 minutes.  You’ll know it’s done when it is solid in the middle and is srating to pull away from the sides.  Cool the cake completely before you serve it.  Sprinkle the top with confectioners sugar, the traditional cake has the fleur del lis in the sugar, as the photo above illustrates.

*  Note: A clean bowl is essential to whip egg whites.  I usually clean with soap and hot water, then dry well.  Before I add the egg whites, I use a half a lemon and wipe the inside of the bowl.  This adds a bit of flavor, but more importantly it removes any residual fat that might still be in the bowl.  Any fat will ruin your whip, and although you do get some rise, you won’t get a fully stiff peak stage.

A Traditional Americas Thanksgiving

Hello, dear Readers!  We have had a frenetic past 6 months. They’ve involved a surgery, we’ve moved, we’ve had a sick kitty thrown into that mix, and now we’re unpacking!  As you know, with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I am usually running myself pleasurably ragged preparing for dinner on Thursday.  This year thought, Hubby’s cousins are hosting at their house, and so I am off the large hook.  That doesn’t mean I won’t cook, just on a much smaller scale.  I am offering to bring a roasted turkey breast and pumpkin mousse/pudding so they have their favorite dessert, but dairy and soy free to accommodate the dietary needs of one of our newest, tiny family members!

As I look back on many years past, I realized that the American Thanksgiving dinner does still bear some resemblance to what we can see from historical accounts was the first dinner, with the Pilgrims giving thanks, not only for the bounty of a harvest, but also to the Native peoples that helped them get to that harvest. Where on our dinner tables are the squash, beans and corn, traditionally now called “the three sisters” of the past?  It’s more than likely they were on that first Thanksgiving table.  So, when looking for easy to freeze vegetarian entrees, I happened upon this little gem, called Three Sisters empanadas, just in time for Thanksgiving!

The “three sisters” are the trinity of beans, squash (or zucchini) and corn. They’re symbiotic crops, the beans and squash need no trellis for support, because they use the corn for it.  And so you have crops that depend upon each other in the garden.  Quite ingenious of those first Americans! I am calling this post traditional Americas Thanksgiving, because this dish is truly that, something from the Americas, both north and south.  The beauty of this dish is that you can freeze it and the dough and filling for a future feast.

The base is the squash and corn, roasted in a hot oven with oil, salt and a little chili powder.  Then you add green chilies, beans, seasonings, and let it sit.  While that happens, you can either freeze the filling, then make the dough, and freeze that too.  Or, you can shape, fill and bake them for immediate eating, later lunches or snacks, or freeze them for later!  You really can’t get more versatile than that!

On a side note, I am implementing what a lot of food blogs have started to do, which is detailing what you’ve done at this time in years past.  I realized I have blogs that go all the way back to 2007, imagine that?  There is a lot to share, so don’t skip the very bottom of the post!

Three Sisters Empanadas (adapted from The Kitchn)

Preheat the oven to 400 º Farenheit

Ingredients:

For the filling:

1/2 pound zucchini (2 medium), cut into 1/2–inch cubes

2 cup fresh corn kernels (2 medium ears) or 1 small package of frozen kernels

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste1 teaspoon of chili powder

1 small can black, pinto or kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 small can diced green chilis (you can use fresh if you like it hot, but then it’s 2 small chilis, seeded and 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

For the dough:

1 cup whole-wheat flour

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

8 tablespoons unsalted cold butter, cubed

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4 cup ice water, plus more as needed

For the egg wash:

1 large egg, beaten

1 tablespoon water

In a large rimmed sheet pan, lined with foil or parchment, lay the corn and squash in one layer, season generously with salt, pepper and chili powder.  Drizzle the olive oil over the ingredients, and with your hands, toss everything so they’re well covered with oil and seasonings.  Place in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, but after 15 minutes start checking so the corn doesn’t burn.  You want everything browned and a little toasted.  Depending on how fresh it is, it might be drier or full of sugar, which tends to make it burn faster.  If you feel like it, after 20 minutes, if everything isn’t already browned, give the pan a shake to redistribute and allow the other side to brown.  Once it’s done, remove from the oven and allow to cool down.  Check your email, check the mail, clean the bathroom, whatever will take enough time for the ingredients to cool off!  Once it’s cooled, place in a large bowl, and add the beans, green chilis, cumin and chili powder. Mix all together well, taste and adjust to your liking.  Then cover, and set in the fridge to mingle a little.  The mixture should be wet enough to hold together on a spoon, but not watery.

IMG_2399

Meanwhile, make the dough.  I used a food processor, you can use your hands, or a pastry cutter or two forks.  I find the processor is just faster. In the bowl of your processor, place the flours, salt and cumin. Pulse a few times to mix well.  Drop in the butter and begin to pulse until everything looks like lumpy cornmeal.  Then start to pulse while you drizzle in the water a few spoons at a time.  Pulse until the dough starts to cohere and ball up.  If it looks too shaggy/dry to cohere after 1/4 cup, measure out another 1/4 cup and pulse it in, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Once it’s in a ball like stage, dump it all out onto a scantly floured board and knead the dough, until it’s smooth and will hold it’s shape.  Wrap in plastic and put in the fridge to rest, 20 minutes or so.  If you’re freezing it, wrap well in plastic, then put into a freezer bag.  When you’re ready to use it, aloow it to thaw overnight or for 8 – 10 hours in the fridge, then knead until pliable.

When you’re ready to assemble, pat the dough into a log like shape and cut into 12 pieces.  If you like a thick dough, cut into 10 and cook 4 -5 minutes longer.  Roll each piece into a ball with your hands, then flatten out on a cutting board, and with a rolling pin, roll it out into a circle shape.  It should be about 4 – 5 inches in diameter and fairly thin.  This dough is fairly tough, so it can handle thin rolling.

IMG_2398

In the center of your dough spread a tablespoon of the filling. Pull the top of the dough over the filling and press into the bottom half, carefully pushing out any air pockets in the filling.  Then, twist the edges together and press down, crimping as you go.  Mine looked like this:

IMG_2400

You should get 12 out of the batch, but if you only get 10 that’s fine! Use a fork to punch some holes in the dough, so there is somewhere for the steam to go.  In a small bowl, beat together the egg and water, and use a brush to brush all over the exposed parts of the empanadas.  Place in the oven (at 400 degrees) for 20 – 25 minutes.  You’ll know they’re done when they look browner and slightly shiny.

IMG_2401

You can serve these with salsa and sour cream, or just eat them as they are.  They’re so good, and make a fab hand held lunch.  Think of them as home made “Hot Pockets”!

Have a lovely Thanksgiving all, and let me know what you end up cooking!!

 


What Were We Cooking?
1 year ago:

Countdown to Thanksgiving

3 years ago:

Pretzel Bread

5 years ago:

Homemade Pancake mix

Mushroom Stroganoff

Ok, vegetarians, come on back to the fold!  This post is one I planned to write a while ago, and so the photos are of the old kitchen. But that doesn’t make it any less wonderful!  I wrote a favorite things post a while back, and mentioned one of my go-to’s for easy every night cooking is a mushroom soup base that is vegetarian.  The product is called Better Than Bouillon. It comes in Vegetable Base, No Chicken and No Beef flavors as well, so there are lots of options flavor wise, but to do this stroganoff well, you need a really deep tasting broth.  Just as an aside, they also do kicking Ham, Beef, Clam, Fish and a Lobster Bases that are amazingly good.  And, as an aside, I am not endorsing this product for any other reason than I love it.

So, yes, this recipe is vegetarian, but I wouldn’t recommend it be vegan.  Having said that though, if you can find a vegan sour cream style product, go for it!   For the meat lovers out there, yes, this is the same recipe as beef stroganoff, just with no beef.  If you want to do beef, add browned beef cubes to this, and you’ll be away with yourself!  I often make this for myself, because I love mushrooms, and I don’t add meat, but I sometimes add fake beef strips, to up the level of protein.

I use an array of mushrooms in this, but honestly the lowly button mushroom is also great here.  For mine I used oyster, Shitake and mini portobello mushrooms.  I would stay away from enoki, they really don’t have any flavor.  I also sometimes use dried porcini or morels if I have them handy.

 

Mushroom Stroganoff

3 medium packages of mushrooms, sliced

2 cloves garlic minced finely, or crushed

2 tablespoons olive oil

pinch of salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup red wine, sherry or marsala (optional)

2 cups good broth (mushroom or vegetable, just make sure it tastes good)

16 oz container of sour cream (low fat, regal, no fat, makes no difference)

1 container/bag beef substitute (I used Gardein Beefless Tips)

1 bag of egg noodles, or rice or couscous, your preference

In a heavy bottomed pan that is cold, place the garlic and oil and turn on the heat to a medium flame.  Once you can smell the garlic, toss in all the mushrooms, and quickly stir to coat them in oil.  The mushrooms will absorb all the oil, but if you sprinkle the salt and pepper over them, stir and clamp a lid on them, they will start to cook and release their juices.  Once this starts to happen, take the lid off the pan and sauté the mushrooms so they are looking limp and cooked.

At this point, I add the wine of you’re using it, and raise the heat up so it bubbles down, all the while stirring.  If you’re not doing that, add the 2 cups of stock, keep the lid off the pan and stir well, then turn up the heat to a low boil, and keep an eye on it, stirring as you go.

IMG_1227

You may want to taste it at this point, for seasoning.  Adjust as you feel is necessary.  After about 10 minutes of high heat, the liquids should be reduced enough that when you stir with your spoon, you should briefly see the bottom of the pan.  Add the fake meat if you’re adding it and stir well.  This will lower the heat in the pan, so cover it and allow it to cook and heat through.  Once you get to that point, take the pot off the heat, and add the sour cream, stirring well to combine.  It may look as though it’s curdling, but it’s not, it’s just a bit shocked.  As you stir, it will all mix and turn a lovely buff color.

IMG_1230.jpg

At this point, I would set this aside, on a very low flame, and cook the starch you’re eating with it.  If it’s noodles, once they’re cooked and well drained, add them to the mushroom mixture and stir well.  If you’re using another grain or starch, pile it up on a plate and spoon the mushroom over it.

Yummy!  Enjoy it!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day, to all the Mom’s out there, be it of human children, doggie or kitty children, or any of the combinations this modern life affords!  You’re the most important thing to a child, and one day is truly not enough to honor all that you do!  In particular, I send this to my own mother, who’s name happens to also be Elizabeth Hennessey.  She is such a wonderful person in general, that her being an amazing Mom to us, and to many that are not her own children, is something I am grateful for each and every day!

If I lived near my mom and dad, I would do a great deal more cooking for them.  But, I live 600+ miles away, so the cooking has to be special any time it does happen. When Mom came out to help with the Hubby’s recovery, I made lamb shanks for my Mom’s birthday celebration dinner, labor intensive, but so worth it for my mom!  I know my Dad is a big dessert lover, in particular blueberry pie and cherry pie.  I am not a big blueberry pie fan, but the cherries, I adore, I guess I got that from him!  

You will recall I gave you a recipe for preserved cherries (AKA Maraschino cherries) here so it’s obvious I love them in any form they come in.  So, when I got a blog post from Faith from TheKitchn for strawberry sour cream scones this week, I suddenly thought, ohh… cherries!  Then it went off into the transom of my mind, and as usual with my menopausal mind fog, I forgot about it.  But Hubby and I went to Whole Foods last night, and they had bags of gorgeous frozen cherries and they were on sale!  Win, WIN!  The idea of the scones popped back into my head.  Now, I will tell you, my go to thing when cooking with the kiddies are chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes (my niece doesn’t realize they’re actually muffins with Nutella on…) or scones.  And for the scones, I steadfastly go to Nigella Lawson’s cheese scone dough (in Nigella Bites) as “the one” recipe with some tweaks. It’s simply the easiest and tastiest scone recipe, but it’s not the traditional lead bellied bombs you usually see.  They’re light and airy, and she uses them for making pigs in blankets… I have to say they’re divine!  I take out the mustard powder and substitute sugar, and chocolate chips go in rather than cheese, and VOILA, you have a chocolate chip scone!  For one thing, Nigella begins with self raising flour, which I have at the ready all the time, I even travel with it if we drive home to New York!  She also doesn’t use the usual sour cream or buttermilk and I find that incredibly easier for impromptu cooking.  

Faith’s recipe calls for all the traditional things, sour cream, buttermilk, eggs.  I made a bit of a detour and combined the two recipe’s with a few tweaks of my own.  For example, instead of adding the sour cream, I just added an egg yolk for richness and a bit of dough enhancement.  These are simpler, and take mere minutes to toss together, and are really delicious!  Once again, you can substitute many things here, the constant is the flour amounts and the liquids have to roughly remain in the same proportions, or you end up with a too wet mess.  Let me know what you think, and I actually took a few photos’ so you’ll see what inspired me about these this morning.

 

Mother’s Day Cherry Scones


1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon fine kosher salt

1 tablespoon sugar (can be refined white, or raw brown)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (cardamom might be nice here too..!)

2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

1 cup frozen (or fresh) cherries pitted and cut in half

1/2 cup sliced almonds (optional)

1/2 cup milk (I used coconut milk, since we never have milk in the house)

1 egg yolk

Scant 1/3 cup Demerara sugar (or some crunchy, large grain sugar for topping)

 

Preheat your oven to 400°, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper, foil or a silpat.

In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cinnamon), stir well to combine.  Add the cold butter to the mixture and toss to combine.  With your finger tips or two forks, or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour, just until the cubes are better combined, and the mixture starts to look crumby.  Toss in the cherries, still frozen and the almonds if you’re using them and set aside.  In a jug or bowl, combine the milk and egg yolk and beat to combine well.  Here comes the tricky part, combine the liquids and flour/cherry mixture in the bowl with a wooden spoon.  It will instantly clump up, and so my best advice it to use your hands and, as gently as you can, mix the two together.  It will be a sticky messy dough, but it will hold together fairly well.  Don’t worry about clumps of flour or butter, that will all work itself out in the oven.


Cherry Scone dough


Once most of the flour in incorporated, turn the whole lot out onto the parchment lined baking sheet and shape it into a round. With a bench scraper, or a large knife, dipped in flour, cut the round into wedges.  Now you’re ready to bake!


Ready for the oven


Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.  They will be darker than you think they will be, that’s due to the frozen cherries melting a bit.  Let them cool to room temperature to try them.  I like them just as they are, but you can split them and slather with butter too!


Fresh from the oven

 

So, I hope your Mother’s Day is wonderful!

 

 


Three years, and so much water under the bridge!

So I logged into WordPress a few weeks ago, and there was a little icon in the upper right hand side of the screen that looked like an award.  It reminded me that I have been blogging on WordPress for 3 years!  Happy Anniversary to me!  It also means I have been blogging for 5 years!  It seems like a much longer period of time than it feels like!  I have tried hard to make the commitment to write as much as possible, but when it’s a food blog, I do tend to let real life get in the way, which means my work, our family, the Hubby and generic stuff.  I read the blogs of people I feel I am getting to know, connections that are tenuous, and not real, but at least keep me in the mind that I should be writing more and more, not less and less.  My mind runs away sometimes, and writing would be a helpful way to keep it centered.  Do any of my blogging friends feel the same way?

As usual, this break in the blogging has been necessary due to life stepping in.  It’s been an interesting and challenging few months.  On March 7th, the Hubby had a lumbar laminectomy and was out of commission for six weeks.  I was prepared for it, but when the time actually came, I realized that I am pretty alone out here.  He wasn’t able to do much for the first week or so, and so I took the first two weeks off, the Hubby’s brother helped me get him home, and came by to check on us, which I am so grateful for, and my Mom came out which was truly wonderful for us both!  I started thinking though, we’re pretty alone here in Michiagn, in the sense of an emergency.  What would I do if something really catastrophic happened?  Have any of you ever thought, what if civilization as we know it came to an end and something in the vein of “The Road” took it’s place?  How would you survive?  In my mind, I always thought I would some how make it back to New York, but in reality it’s unlikely that would happen.  Too far, how do we eat/sleep/travel along the way?  It’s a daunting, kind of paranoid scenario.  It also crosses my mind that when I am elderly, I’ll be alone too, or the Hubby and I will be alone.  It’s a scary thought!  How many of you have ever pondered that?

It’s the thoughts of the future and the unknown that make me so grateful for our family and my husband.  They’re great people, that love me tons, and there are many people that don’t have that in their life.  SO, I am super lucky!  And I love to cook for them, and so we come to this episode’s recipe.  it’s something very simple, so delicious and family oriented, that I can’t believe it took me so long to make it for the Hubby, in vegetarian fashion of course.

Most of the time Hubby was laid up, I heated up convenience foods, but I also made and bought him ice cream, and cookies and pretzel treats, all to keep him happy.  In anticipation of being laid up for 6 weeks, before he went under the knife, Hubby bought a very large bag of lentils, which he loves.  When I finally had some time to cook, I thought about making them the way I normally do them, the French way, beautiful green grey Puys lentils, a bottle of red wine, diced onion and garlic, long slow cook, but I had gotten tired of that. I also had a cabbage around that never made it into St. Patrick’s Day dinner.  Enter Mark Bittman and his wonderful iPhone app “How to Cook EVERYTHING Vegetarian” and VOILA! I stumbled upon lentil and rice stuffed cabbage rolls.  And we were off!

Bittman suggests just rice, lentils and onion.  I had a great deal of greens and other vegetables left from the Door to Door Organics box delivery we get, so I decided to pump this up pretty hard.  We had some carrots, a ton of onion, garlic, some broccoli rabe and some organic pear tomatoes.  Of course, being the pantry supply maniac that I am, I also had dried herbs, Indian spices, nuts, and all manner of packet flavoring.

Living in Hamtramck, MI, also known as Poletown (thank you Chrysler) anything Polish is pretty standard, and stuffed cabbage rolls are called golubki (which is pronounced golumki).  A few years ago, I helped a friend do her version of them and a semi-hilarious scene (for me, not for her) ensued where her in-sink disposal broke and landed all the greasy, cabbagy, smelly things that should have gone down the drain in the cabinet under her sink.  I recall much swearing and name calling of the person that had fixed said disposal.  With this version, there isn’t any meat, so the grease is cut down to a minimum.  And of course, when I was cooking I forgot to take photos.  I am sure you will forgive me, considering how awful my photo’s usually are!  

This recipe is fairly fool proof, and if you are not dextrous enough to get the rolling right, you can always just layer them like a casserole.  But, softening the cabbage in water first is essential.

 

Vegetarian/Vegan Cabbage Rolls (adapted from Mark Bittmen)

1/2 cup uncooked lentils

1/2 cup uncooked rice (normal long grain white)

2 cups water (or vegetarian no or low sodium stock)

pinch of salt & pepper

Large soup pot, full of boiling salted water (water should taste a little of the salt)

8 – 10 cabbage leaves, stem removed (white cabbage works best but Savoy might be nice)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion chopped finely

3 garlic cloves pressed or chopped finely

8 – 10 mushrooms chopped

2 carrots finely chopped

1 cup chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned (if fresh remove the seeds and pulp, leaving only the skin and flesh)

1 medium bunch of broccoli rabe finely sliced (and/or kale, or spinach)

1 14 oz can low sodium tomato juice (or vegetable juice, like V8)

 

In a heavy bottomed pan that has a tight fitted lid, bring the 2 cups of water, salt & pepper to a boil.  Stir in the lentils and rice, stir to evenly distribute, and bring back to the boil.  Lower the heat down to a simmer and cover tightly.  Let cook for 15 – 20 minutes or until all the water has absorbed.  Once it’s done, set it aside, still covered. 

In the meantime bring the large pot of salted water to a boil, and prepare a very large bowl with an ice bath.  Blanch the cabbage leaves 2 – 3 at a time, until they’re softened but not falling apart, about 3 minutes each.  Remove from the boiling water and plunge into the ice bath.  Make sure they’re completely covered in the cold water, and continue the process until all the cabbage leaves are processed.  Set the whole bowl and cabbage aside until you’re ready to stuff.

In a saucepan, sauté the onion, garlic and carrots in the olive oil.  Cover and lower the heat so they cook and the onions start to get brown but don’t burn, about 4 minutes.  Once they’re soft, add the mushrooms, cook string occasionally for another 3 – 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms soften.  Add the greens, and sauté until they start to wilt then, add the tomatoes, stir well and cover.  Cook for 7 – 10 minutes, string occasionally until it is heated through and the tomatoes thicken.  Remove from the heat and stir the mixture into the rice and lentils.  Set aside to cool.  At this point, when it’s still hot, I usually add some dried herbs, really to taste, or you can be traditional and use parsley, marjoram and dried chive.

Preheat your oven to 350°

You’re ready to start rolling and stuffing.  Drain the cabbage well.  If you have a salad spinner, place them gently in it and spin, the key here is to keep them as whole as possible but to dry them really well.  If not a salad spinner, use tea towels or paper towels and gently dry them off, and stack them until you’re ready for them.  On a flat surface lay a leaf cupped side up, with the cut end where the core was facing you.  Take about 1/4 cup of the stuffing and place it 1/3 of the way into the cup from the but end.  Fold the cut end over the filling, and fold in the 2 sides to form a kind of envelope with the open end facing away from you.  Roll the filling end of the package over the leaf until the open end is on the bottom of the packet.  It should look like a very fat stuffed grape leaf.  Place the packet, open end side down, in a square baking dish.  Continue to stuff and roll the others placing them in the baking dish.  One they’re all tucked into the dish, pour over the tomato or vegetable juice, until they’re covered.  You may not use all of it.

Bake the rolls for 20 minutes, until they’re bubbly and beginning to brown.  Let them cool to room temperature and serve.

ENJOY! 

 

 

 

 

 

Pretzel bread…. YAY!

Last weekend, we had a semi-surprise family gathering at our house.  Tim’s second cousin was in town with his dad at the local bar playing a show.  The family, Tim’s uncle and his cousin, as well as another cousin, came by for drinks and some picky food before we all went over to the show.  It was a nice opportunity to see everyone, talk about the upcoming family wedding, and just catch up.

Of course, I was all a-twitter about what to serve, and ended up making Tim’s mom’s “Olive Puffs” … so yum… and buying other things, like some marinated mozzarella balls, and various dips.  We had cocktails and wine too.  When Tim’s cousin Keith arrived, he came bearing a cheese plate and pretzel bread.  The bread was SO good and I was reminded that one of my brothers loves it.  So I started thinking about how to make it.  I had attempted hard pretzels many years ago, but this was a new thing for me.

I looked at several recipes I found online, and there are many ways to make pretzel dough.  I attempted two of them, one involving refined sugar, one using a combination of self raising flour and plain flour, but neither was very successful.  The self raising flour seemed to bubble up all over the place and the baking soda flavor was overpowering.  So I looked at all 5 of the recipe’s I found and came up with this one.  This time, it came out great, moist, dense and very flavorful, with that chemical tang that you find in pretzels but can never pinpoint the exact flavor.  There are two methods of imparting the flavor that I came up against, both involve boiling, one in a water/baking soda solution and one in a water/lye solution.  When I mentioned to Tim about the lye, he was 100 against it, (“Why would you want to boil bread in Drano?!”) so I went for the baking soda solution.  The purpose is to set the crust, and sort of flash cook it, so it really darkens and caramelizes when you bake it, similar to the way that bagels are made.  I also added some salt to the water, because I figured it would add more flavor, and it really did.

A few notes here about the flour you use.  I ended up buying bread flour, which I know I will use again, but if you only have all purpose, don’t sweat it.  They will both work fine, I also think you can combine whole wheat and plain flour to make it a little healthier and more hardy.  I would go 1 cup whole wheat, and the rest plain flour.  And yes, it’s worth opening up another package of yeast for this one.  Believe me, it makes a huge difference, both in the rising of the bread and the flavor.  We made mock chicken burgers and had them on the breads last night for dinner… and it was divine!

Elizabeth’s Pretzel Bread

Dough:
3 ½ cups of bread flour (or all purpose flour)
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
3 teaspoons (1 ½ packets) instant yeast
1 cup lukewarm water (110 – 120 °F)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
2 tablespoons whole milk or half and half
½ cup flour reserved for kneading
1 tablespoon oil

For the soak:
4 quarts water
½ cup baking soda

For the coating:
Kosher salt to taste (or pretzel salt if you can find it)
2 tablespoons melted butter

In a large bowl combine the flour and salt, make sure they are very well combined and set aside.  In another small bowl, combine the water, honey, dark brown sugar and yeast.  I suggest mixing it all together and dissolving the sugars, then adding the yeast and then mix so the yeast is completely dissolved.  Let this mixture set for 10 – 12 minutes until the yeast starts to proof (bubble up.)  Once the yeast mixture is creamy and bubbly, add in the milk and the cooled melted butter.  Add to the dry ingredients.  Mix well, you can use a stand mixer and paddle to start this, and you will have a slightly sticky solid dough or you can use a wooden spoon and your hands.  Once you have a cohesive dough, turn it out on a floured surface, or you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook, in any case, the reserved flour will help you to get a smooth supple dough (the old saying, smooth as a baby’s bottom comes to mind.)  The dough will feel heavier and more solid than you may think it should be, but that’s OK.  Oil a large bowl with some flavor neutral oil, although I used olive oil in this case.  Make sure the bowl is big enough to hold the dough after it has doubled.  Toss in the dough, turning it so it’s covered lightly all over with the oil, this prevents sticking.

Cover the bowl with a slightly damp tea towel, and allow to rise for 30 minutes, punch it down, make sure it’s not sticking, it won’t seem to have risen a whole lot, but once you punch it down this time, it will rise like crazy.  This time let it rise for another hour in a warm dry place, until it’s doubled.  I suggest on your stove top, with the oven on low.

At this point, preheat your oven to 400 ° C.  You may use a pizza stone if you like, but a good old cookie sheet with parchment over it will work just as well, set it aside, ready for action. The point here is, you need a very hot oven.  About the time you’re done with the second rise, put the 4 quarts of water on to boil.  You will add the baking soda to this when it has come to the boil, but in the mean time, you will punch down the dough again and shape it into the shape you want it to be in when baked.  I would divide it into 8 round balls, also known as boules.  My first time I tried to do pretzel shapes, but they failed miserably, came all undone.  So until you’re more confident, I would try the simple boules below, then experiment with other shapes.  Remember you can also make these into much smaller shapes, bite size servings.  It makes no difference, so do what you want.

Shaped and resting boules, before boiling

When the dough is shaped, let them rest while you add the baking soda to the rapidly boiling water.  Stir well so it’s totally combined.  Work with one dough at a a time and drop your formed breads into the water, top down, and boil for 30 seconds, turning them mid-way.

Boiling in barely bubbling water, 15 seconds a side.

Set the boiled dough onto the final baking sheet and cover with the Kosher salt.  Continue the process with the remaining dough balls.  Once they’re all on the pan and salted, cut some X’s or patterns around the tops, about 1/8 inch deep with a very sharp knife so the dough has somewhere to split and rise when baking.  You can be really creative here, it makes for a dramatic presentation and finished product.

I used a flat slotted spoon to drain them before I put them on the baking sheet.
Course Kosher salt is good, don't over salt, they'll be hard to eat.

Slide them onto your hot oven, and bake for 25 minutes, but start checking them at 20 minutes, they should be highly risen and very dark brown all over.  They may be done between 21 – 23 minutes, depending upon your oven.  They may stick if you used tin foil (as I did for these photos) but they will become easier to remove once they cool down.

They're done! Now for the melted butter.

When the breads are out of the oven, brush them lightly with melted butter, it will make them shiny and soft, as well as adding some nice flavor to them.  Let them cool well before you eat them.  An alternative to the butter after baking, is to brush an egg wash over them before you put them in the oven, that will make them shiny.  All you have to do is lightly beat one egg with a teaspoon of milk or water, and brush it over the loaves, then salt them and proceed as above.

YUM! Salty and sweet at the same time!

Hello New Year!

I am ashamed that I haven’t written here in several months, but I do have some very good excuses.  A bout of diverticulitis, a broken bone in my foot that I didn’t know I had, a huge Thanksgiving at our house, and a wonderful drive out, but fraught with snow drive back from New York for Christmas.  In summary, things have been BUSY!

I did however, do quite a bit of cooking over the holidays and the few months before.  I found and modified a great recipe for shortbread that includes rosemary, which was delicious.  I made a family recipe for Irish Christmas cake, which I will not give away, but I was quite impressed with my modifications.  No raisins, so I ended up using all the dried fruit I had in the house, I had no whiskey so I used bourbon, and, I can not believe I am saying this, Tim didn’t have any stout in the house, so I used a delicious and very dark beer he had in the back of the fridge.  It turned out wonderful, and I even had time to age it and bring it to our Christmas at my parents house in NY. 

I have been thinking and thinking about what the heck I was going to share with the blogosphere.  What I suddenly remembered was the brunch we had the weekend before Christmas at our house.  My friend David was in town from California, and staying at our friends Melinda and Keith’s house.  So, they came to us for brunch.  I made a feta dip, and had a lovely cheese platter, but what saved the day was the mini crustless quiches that I made.  David, as it turns out has celiac disease, so pretty much everything I made had gluten, except the quiches.  Thank goodness, he loved them, and could eat them!  As always, you can substitute just about any cheese or filling.  I also made them in jumbo, non-stick muffin tins.  However, buttering them well is essential, so don’t skip that step.

Brunchtime Mini-quiches

6 jumbo (room temperature) eggs
1 cup half and half, or milk, or cream or any combination of the above (I used half and half and creme fraiche)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1 cup cheese (I used shredded Jarlsberg, but cheddar or goat or any other are fine)
1.5 cups sauteed spinach

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees
Evenly divide the cheese and spinach between the muffin tins.  Some people put the cheese in the bottom of the cup so it forms a sort of crust.  I didn’t worry about the order.  People also have used ham and lined the cup with that… also a little too much prinking for me.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, dairy and salt, pepper and cayenne until they are well combined and you can’t see any more eggwhites.  With a ladle, fill the muffin tins to just below the rim.  You should have just enough eggs to fill 6 jumbo tins.  I wouldn’t recommend a smaller size, they will cook and dry out too quickly.  You can also use individual ramekins, I think the capacity is 1.5 cups.  Put the tin on a baking sheet, and bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes.  You will know when they are done when the tops are very puffed up and browning.  They may have some jiggle in the middle, but they should not be liquid in the middle.

Now, these will loose their puffiness fairly quickly after coming out of the oven, a bit like little souffles.  The key to unmolding them is running a flexible spatula around the sides of the tins, so they won’t stick.  Place them on a plate and enjoy!

Let me know how they come out!