Monday, January 28, 2008

Itty-Bitty Biscotti: Why I'm the Biscotti-Eating Champion of the World

I really can't believe that I haven't posted about our incredibly delicious, itty-bitty, whole-wheat biscotti. We've made them several times now, and for various occasions: Thanksgiving, Christmas (they make fantastic gifts), dinner parties, and that time I felt like eating 20 biscotti in one sitting. Ok, that happens every time we make them, but I'd still call it an occasion.

Jonathan posted about pumpkin biscotti a while back, but these little dunkers are a whole different animal. And by "whole" I mean "whole-wheat." Yes, that's right, these are biscuits of pure health. And I like making them really small, so they're pretty darn cute, to boot.

Our latest excuse to make biscotti was an assignment from one of my favorite food bloggers, Jaden, of Steamy Kitchen. Eminently famous and highly esteemed, Jaden was recently asked to test a new food product: single-serve spices. The spices come in little packets (1 teaspoon each) and include everything from green cardamom to ancho chili powder to anise seed. Which is where we come in.

Jaden asked her readers with some help with the testing, and we jumped at the chance to a) get some free anise seed and make delicious biscotti, and b) hopefully make an appearance on her blog, thus making this blog famous and increasing its readership 10-fold. So far, a) has worked out really well.

We got the wee packet of anise seed in the mail last week, and whipped up a batch of anise-almond biscotti last night. We even got to test out our new mortar and pestle:

They are half gone already, but it's ok because we've already taken the requisite pictures. Hopefully you'll be able to check us out on Jaden's blog sometime soon, but until then, you can contemplate the marvels of itty-bitty biscotti:

1. They are SO cute
2. They have no butter or oil
3. They are a blank canvas - add any flavors, fruits, nuts, or chocolates you want
4. They are perfect with tea
5. You slice them up after baking them, and then you bake them again!
6. They are tasty

I'll post the exact recipe at the end, but here is a biscotti-making primer for any first-timers out there: Measure and then mix the dry ingredients together (look at our anise seed!).

Add the eggs, extracts, and tidbits (nuts, raisins, chocolate chips), kneading if necessary to incorporate all of the dry ingredients. The dough will be pretty sticky, so flour your hands if necessary before forming the dough into two long, thin logs. Place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, flattening them a bit so they get that nice biscotti-shape when they bake.

Bake until cooked through and no longer soft, then let cool for a few minutes. Once you can handle them, slice them into biscotti. You can slice on the bias if you'd like, but I go straight and slice them thinly, so that they are quite small.

Tip them all on their sides and return to the oven for 10 or 15 minutes, until lightly golden and crisp. Flip if necessary (I usually don't flip them).

Itty-Bitty, Anise-Almond, Whole-Wheat Biscotti

2 1/4 c. whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp. anise seed, crushed
2/3 c. sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. almond extract
2/3 c. whole almonds, lightly toasted

Instead of going through the instructions again, I'll just give you the basics: Form the logs so that they are about 12-14 in. long. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes, then remove and slice. Return to 375 degree oven for 10-15 min. more, until crisp. Eat continuously for the next day and a half.

Golden Beet Soup with Spice

Even though I've been trying to cook more recipes lately, I still find it difficult to stick to someone else's plan. Last night we made spinach meatballs, which began as a recipe from Claudia Roden's unbelievably beautiful book of Jewish cooking. The recipe calls for beef or veal, and we opted for turkey. It calls for two eggs, and we used one. The only seasonings it calls for are nutmeg, salt, and pepper, and we threw in half an onion, for good measure. So I guess we didn't really follow the recipe....but the meatballs were delicious!

The recipe I'm sharing today came about similarly. A New York Times food section recipe caught my eye, and I took the idea and ran with it. The recipe was for beet curry soup, and I noticed it the morning after having purchased three lovely, golden beets. Perfect.

It turns out that my recipe is not much different than the Times recipe - beets, apple, onion, spice. I didn't use any butter (no need to, in my opinion), and I only used one apple, since I didn't want the soup to be too sweet. I also roasted the apple and onion in the oven instead of sauteing them. This worked out perfectly for me, because I didn't actually make the soup until the day after I had roasted the vegetables. Once you roast, you can pop everything in the refrigerator and puree the finished product whenever it is most convenient.

Although the recipe is straightforward, the soup is perfect - thick and warmly flavored, but a change of pace from ubiquitous butternut squash concoctions. Even if you don't love the taste of roasted beets on their own, I'm willing to bet you'll love the combination of flavors in this soup, especially with that cumin-curry kick. Plus, it's the perfect way to use golden beets, which I have recently determined to be the Most Beautiful Vegetable Ever. They may be humble from the outside, but once you cut into one (after roasting, of course), you'll see what I mean.

Just a quick tip for roasting beets: be patient - the beets I roasted today took the better part of 90 minutes. Cut off any long roots or tops before roasting.

Spiced Golden Beet Soup (adapted from the New York Times)

3 large or 4 smaller golden beets
1 large apple, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
2-3 tbs. olive oil, divided
3-4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp. curry powder, or to taste
optional spices, to taste: cinnamon, coriander, cumin, ginger, cayenne
salt and pepper, to taste

Roast beets: wash and prick all over with a sharp knife. Drizzle with 1 tbs. olive oil and wrap together tightly in foil. Roast at 400 degrees for a little over an hour, until tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork. Once cooled slightly, peel and chop roughly. During the last 25 minutes of roasting, roast apple and onion until tender: coat with remaining olive oil and salt, pepper, and curry to taste, then pop into the oven. To make soup, cover vegetables with stock and heat until just simmering. Remove from heat and blend mixture in batches until smooth. Return to pot and season with additional salt, pepper, curry, and spices. Thin with additional stock or water if necessary. Serve with a dollop of plain yogurt and crusty bread.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


I've been toying with the idea of making my own granola for a while now. It just seems What could possibly be more exhilarating than taking an ubiquitous grocery item and health-ifying it (i.e. cutting fat and sugar and experimenting with some wacky tastes)?

I had a little time on my hand this past week, so I decided to give it a go. I'll start off by saying that granola, while incredibly delicious, usually doesn't make it into my breakfast rotation. I'm an oatmeal kind of gal, and although some people get a little grossed out by the whole hot and runny porridge thing, I lap it up. Literally. The runnier and porridgier the better. But back to granola. The truth about it is that granola, though loaded with healthy stuff (oats, flax, nuts, fruit) is usually also loaded with sugar and fat (that's why it's so delicious!). I'm not on a fat-free sugar-free granola crusade, but when I eat it, I would like to know what - and in what proportions - goes into it. Hence homemade granola.

I've found over the past few days that granola can be a bit frustrating. Let me give you a quick rundown of the granola making process: Mix dry ingredients (grains, nuts, seeds), mix wet ingredients (sugar, syrup, fat, fruit puree), and pour wet over dry, moistening everything. Spread mixture on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until dried and crisp. Add dried fruit. Most recipes are pretty standard, and while many leave out the oil and butter or substitute something for it (egg whites, for example), almost all of them still have a lot of sugar. That means I've had to do some experimenting...some rounds of which have been more successful than others.

So far I've learned a few things. The first is that it's fun to add a lot of stuff to the dry part of the granola. Instead of doing straight rolled oats, I've been doing a combination of oat, barley, rye, and wheat flakes (sold as a dry mix for hot cereal). I've also been tossing in some Kashi 7 Grain puffed cereal, in addition to wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, flax seeds, pepitas, and even sesame seeds. I know what you're thinking - I'm crazy.

The second is that it takes more than you might think to actually make granola with flavor. In other words, granola is loaded with sugar for a reason: crunchy-toasted rolled oat flakes are a bit, well, bland on their own. This is where my main challenge lies: coming up with a good recipe that yields flavorful, if not too sweet, granola.

The first batch I made was based on this recipe, which calls for applesauce as a fat substitute and flavor-enhancer. I added pepitas, almonds, and sesame, which worked quite well. I also sprinkled a lot of cinnamon and ground ginger on this batch - I've discovered that spices and extracts (vanilla, almond) are essential for a flavorful granola. This batch was tasty, but the flavors were pretty standard, and I wanted to expand my granola horizons.

The next batch was blueberry-ish: I used some blueberry-pomegranate juice as the base for the syrup, and tossed in a few frozen blueberries, as well. This batch, sadly, was mostly flavorless - not nearly enough sugar, although a hefty sprinkling of cinnamon and cardamom salvaged it mid-way through baking.

Ok, so the experimentation continues...I haven't hit the granola jackpot yet, but I sure am trying. I did make a rather tasty creation today: peanut butter-banana granola, which gets its sweet-salty flavor from the peanut butter. I still have a few more ideas in mind, so bear with me as I search for the perfect recipe to share...wish me luck, and try to keep in mind the quantity of mediocre granola I've been consuming in an effort get to the bottom of this culinary challenge.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

More Rice-less Risotto: Farrotto with Rosemary-Scented Squash and Balsamic-Glazed Cipolline Onions

Wow, that was a mouthful. I mentioned a few posts ago that we were fortunate enough to host a small dinner gathering last week in Jonathan's apartment. There were just four of us: Jonathan and I and two lovely guests, but it was certainly occasion enough to spend a little time preparing the menu, do some rare day-ahead planning, and even purchase a novelty item or two (this time it was goat's milk, with which we made cardamom ice cream).

Planning for the dinner reminded me how much I love, well, planning for things like this. I can spend hours dreamily shuffling through menu ideas in my mind, formulating little mental shopping lists, and searching for inspiration in cookbooks and on the blogosphere. So that's exactly what I did.

My only constraint was that this was to be a vegetarian meal, which really isn't much of a constraint for me, since I'm happy to cook and eat vegetarian-ly much of the time. In planning the menu, I decided pretty early on in the game that the protein of the meal was going to be a frittata. I can't say enough about the frittata. It really is one of the most versatile dishes in my repertoire, and it can be classy, casual, chock full of fancy stuff, chock full of crap you found in the back of your fridge, brunch, lunch, dinner, 2am yes, it is versatile. Oh yeah, it also is really yummy.

I also knew I wanted a salad. I mean come on, that's pretty basic. But I needed something else, too. Something carb-y, something filling but not too heavy, something novel and fancy but not too involved. I was toying with the idea of making a panade, which is essentially a savory bread pudding that uses stock for the liquid and lots of cheese and vegetables. It seemed too heavy, though. I discovered it in my brand new Zuni Cafe cookbook, which, while incredible, suffers from the restaurant cookbook fate of having lots of recipes that, frankly, will never make an appearance in my kitchen.

Flipping through the rest of the book, though, I saw a recipe for farrotto - a risotto-like dish made with Italian farro instead of rice. Having recently discovered farro (a whole grain similar to spelt), Jonathan and I are rather obsessed with it. Sure, it's a "whole grain," but it has a wonderful, light, wheaty flavor and al dente texture that make it much more pleasant than, say, wheat berries. Not that I don't like wheat berries.

That glimpse of the title of the recipe was all the inspiration I needed. The Zuni recipe calls for some herbs and other ingredients, but I just took the farrotto idea and ran with it. Right to Whole Foods, where I picked up some fresh rosemary, butternut squash, and cute little cipolline onions. And thus this long-winded recipe was born.

Some notes on the recipe: I opted for red wine instead of the traditional white wine in this recipe, because I thought the red would stand up to the strong flavors of the dish: rosemary, vinegar, squash. I also made this a "rosemary-scented" recipe because I really don't like the texture of rosemary in my food. I like just a hint of the pine-y taste, so I infused a sprig or two in some olive oil and coated the squash in it before roasting. And about that roasting - it seems time consuming, but it really makes for outstanding and subtle flavors. This can easily be done a day in advance, as can braising the onions. I used an Epicurious recipe as a guideline for braising the onions, so I won't include that step here. My version went a little like this, though: boil and peel the onions, saute them (whole) in some oil, add vinegar, wine, and stock, and simmer until soft and sauce has reduced. Finally, save some of the onion-braising sauce to drizzle over the farrotto. Yum.

Farrotto with Rosemary-Scented Squash and Balsamic-Glazed Cipolline Onions

1 c. uncooked farro
2 c. butternut squash, in very small dice
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 c. + 1 tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. butter
4-5 garlic cloves
3 shallots or 1 small onion
1/2 c. red wine
3-4 c. vegetable or light chicken stock
salt and pepper, to taste
a few tablespoons of grated cheese (I used goat cheese and parmesan)
balsamic-glazed cipolline onions

Infuse olive oil and roast squash: heat 1/4 c. oil in a small skillet and add a sprig or two of rosemary and 2 lightly crushed (but still whole) garlic cloves. Oil shouldn't smoke, but should just barely bubble around the edges. Swirl pan and remove from heat. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, dice squash into small cubes and preheat oven to 400 degrees. When oil has cooled, drizzle it over the squash. Add salt and pepper and roast until tender, about 25 min. Set aside or refrigerate.
Make farrotto: Finely chop garlic and onion/shallots. Set stock over low heat to simmer - it must be hot when you add it to your farrotto. Heat remaining oil and butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and saute until soft, but not browned. Season with salt and pepper. Add farro and stir to coat in the oil. After a minute or two, add the wine, stirring, until almost absorbed. At this point, continue making the farrotto like any risotto: add ladlefuls of hot stock and stir until almost absorbed. The farro takes about 20-25 minutes to reach the al dente stage. Just before it's finished cooking, add the squash and a handful or two of cheese. Stir until completely heated through and combined. Serve immediately, and top each dish with a cipolline onion and a drizzle of balsamic glaze. Revel in the praise of your guests.

Yes, I know, it seems long. It really isn't so hard though - I was preparing it after a glass and a half of wine (trust me, this is not trivial) and it came out just beautifully. It really is best right off of the stove, when it is still a bit soupy and the broth is thick and starchy, but it makes great leftovers, too. Just reheat with a bit more stock.

And in case you were wondering what the whole menu was:

Butter lettuce, fennel, and watercress salad with blood oranges and kalamata olives
Farrotto (duh)
Wild mushroom and leek frittata with goat cheese and pan-roasted cherry tomatoes
Goat's milk cardamom ice cream with sugar-crusted almonds
Almond and anise biscotti

Friday, January 18, 2008

Loving and Hating Williams-Sonoma

Stanford Shopping Mall, Palo Alto, California: We walk into the store, our eyes suddenly dancing and darting as we take it all in: shelves piled high with chef's blades, delicate wire whisks, heat-proof mixing bowls. And then our glance alights on the belle of the baking ball: the artisan copper-plated KitchenAid stand-mixer (oh baby), gleaming in all of its glory and reflecting the soft lighting of the store. It almost hurts to look. Almost.

We're in Williams-Sonoma. We saunter past the ceiling-high shelf of trendy cookbooks. Say a quick "hello" to Nigella, Jamie, and Mario. We drift dreamily past the flamboyant crew of salespeople, who whisper sweet nothings into the ears of their co-workers via pop-star style headsets: "a Wusthof set, please," or "I'll need a Le Creuset dutch oven at the sales counter for pick-up."

We're sidetracked by flatware, peelers, juicers, heart-shaped baking tins, fluted tart pans with removeable bottoms. We have no idea what the hell we even came in here for, but we don't care.

I'm sure you've felt the same rush as you walk into Williams-Sonoma, too. How could you feel anything else? For food dorks like me, Williams-Sonoma is like Disneyworld. Or sex. When you're in there, transfixed by the array of gleaming, stainless steel merchandise, it's just too easy to look past the ridiculousness of it all; the over-the-top glut of kitchen gear, the gaggle of jarred sauces and marinades, the Barefoot Contessa baking mixes (1st step: get out your double boiler!).

For real enlightenment, you need the catalog, which unfortunately doesn't exude the magical aura of the store. Jonathan receieved the January 2008 catalog a few days ago, and this morning, while making some oatmeal in an utterly unremarkable Ikea saucepan, I stole a look. All-Clad (p. 54): nice. Le Creuset (p. 56): very nice. Hand-cranked nut chopper (p. 30): are you kidding me?

Who, exactly, do they think wants a stupid, one-purpose nut-chopper cluttering up their kitchen? Or how about the filled-pancake pan (p. 11)? Not that I wouldn't use that all the time. And there's the frittata pan (p. 15), which, for a mere $135, allows you to forego the horrendously difficult step of sticking your frittata under the broiler for 1 minute. The list, of course goes on: flexible finger guard, vegetable grip, stainless steel rolling mincer...

Yes, it's true, Williams-Sonoma is a fraud. It isn't the serious chef's innocent guardian angel, but rather a raging cookware demon, taking advantage of the poor rubes who think it's worthwhile to shell out $40 for some frozen cinnamon buns that you can bake at home in your own oven.

I will say that in addition to all of the crap, Williams-Sonoma does sell some nice things. There are some kitchen gadgets - good paring knives, graters, immersion blenders - that add plenty of value to the kitchen. It's just too bad that they have to waste so much space in their catalog with all of the junky stuff aimed at bored housewives in McMansion-sized kitchens with too much time and not enough common sense for their own good. Oh, the humanity.

So there, Williams-Sonoma. You suck. But also, you're awesome. See you next time I'm at the Stanford Shopping Mall? Promise you'll have the headsets? Cool.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Perfect, Simple Salad

I'm not going to be modest tonight - I have really been in a cooking groove lately. From delightful goat's milk-cardamom ice cream to a white bean stew (which served as the base for some incredible baked eggs this morning) to the minty-lemon lamb kebabs we had tonight, everything has been going my way. Culinarily, at least.

I am already planning some exciting posts to share those new recipes, but for tonight, I thought I'd share a simple and tasty salad recipe that has become one of my stand-bys. Not surprisingly, this is a Middle-Eastern inspired dish, which is adapted from Paula Wolfert's invaluable book Mediterranean Cooking. I highly recommend the book which, upon purchasing, I immediately read cover-to-cover.

At the very least though, you should try this salad recipe. I served it tonight with those luscious lamb kebabs and some homemade pita (so, so good), but it goes well with anything grilled or roasted. I won't pretend that this salad isn't best in the summer, when you can get delicious cucumbers and tomatoes, but it's still good at any time of the year.

Chickpea, Tomato, and Cucumber Salad

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3-4 green onions, sliced
small handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped
juice from 1 lemon
drizzle of olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Mix tomatoes, cucumber, chickpeas, and green onions. Just prior to serving, chop mint and add to the salad. Top with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

We're Back, with Meatballs

First things first: it's been an embarrassingly long time since my last post. But, just when I was starting to get really annoyed that things like exams and studying were taking up my precious maniacal blogging time, I realized that I was done with all of that. At least for a few days. Seven semesters down, one to go. Then it's going to be maniacal blogging time whenever I want it to be!

That said, you'll be happy to know that the last few weeks weren't entirely devoted to studying. We took some breaks to make some rather delicious meals, and even hosted a wee dinner gathering on Monday evening. More on that later.

For now, I want to make up for my recent blogligence with a wonderfully hearty and delicious meatball stew. I've never been much of a traditional Italian meatball person, but I've recently become interested in the meatball-like foods of other Mediterranean regions. Interestingly enough, almost every culture has some version of the meatball: kibbe, kofta, albondigas....all with names significantly more appealing than "meatball."

My meatball dish is Mediterranean-ish in terms of flavor, but its real roots are my mother's recipe for sweet and sour meatballs, a dish she'd make once in a while using ground turkey instead of beef. In some sense I hate to say that they were delicious, because the two main ingredients in the "sweet and sour" part of the meatballs were ginger ale and ketchup. I know, it sounds....not delicious. But trust me, it was. Unfortunately, I wouldn't be caught dead cooking with ginger ale and ketchup, so I've updated, improvised, and yuppified the recipe a bit. Ok, a lot. It's still turkey, still sweet and sour, and instead of being served over white rice, this version was accompanied by some quinoa. Brown rice or cous cous would also work very well. Also, I thought about calling this dish "Meatballs Agrodulce." Too much? I thought so, too.

About the recipe: it seems long, but let's face it - every meatball recipe involves the same basic steps. I think it helps to chill the meat mixture before rolling it into balls, but proceed as time permits. I call for "cooked grain" in the meat mixture, which could be anything from pre-soaked bulgur to cooked brown rice to plain old bread crumbs. The grain helps to add some substance and soak up some of the liquid from the meat and onion. Finally, it's important to really caramelize the onions for the sauce. Doing so makes them nice and sweet, and this is sweet and sour meatball stew, after all. To get the sour, I use balsamic vinegar, which you should add according to your tastes. Oh, and did I mention that this recipe is absolutely perfect on a chilly winter night?

Here's the recipe; be grateful that you can get all of the deliciousness of sweet and sour meatballs without all of that ginger ale.

Sweet and Sour Turkey Meatballs, Yuppy Style

For the meatballs:
1 lb. ground turkey
1 egg
1/4 c. cooked grain, bulgur, or breadcrumbs
1/2 onion, diced (as small as you can!)
2 cloves garlic, pressed
5-6 prunes, soaked and chopped
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. cumin
pinch nutmeg
1/2 tsp. all-purpose or Italian seasoning
1/2-1 tsp. salt
pepper to taste

Soak prunes (there are more prunes in the sauce, so soak those, too) in hot water for about 30min., until plump and soft, and then chop. Mix all ingredients thoroughly - don't be afraid to use your hands! If you have time, set aside to chill for a few hours. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Form meat mixture into 1-in. diameter balls, wetting your hands to avoid sticking. Place meatballs on a lightly greased and foiled baking sheet and bake for 15-20 min., until starting to brown and completely cooked through.

For the sauce:
1 tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 large can chopped tomatoes, with about half of the juice
10 prunes, chopped
1 carrot, diced
3 tbs. (or to taste) balsamic vinegar
Seasonings to taste: cinnamon, paprika, ground ginger, cumin, turmeric, salt, and pepper
cooked meatballs

Heat olive oil in a pot, and then add onions. Caramelize the onions. This should take about 15 min. of cooking. Watch the onions, stirring occasionally, to make sure that they are browning but not burning. Once they are nicely browned, add garlic, and saute for a minute or so. Season with salt, pepper, and spices. Add carrot and cook until slightly softened. Add prunes, and then add tomatoes with some juice. Season with balsamic vinegar and adjust the spices. Cook until thickened, and then add the meatballs. Cook for a few minutes more to heat the meatballs and reduce the sauce to your liking. Serve over rice, brown rice, quinoa, or cous cous.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Cremolata, or How to Show Up One of America's Best Chefs

After a holiday hiatus, we are back in the ice cream making business. Well actually, it's not really a business, and in fact, it's not really ice cream, either. Our latest creation is a dangerously delicious almond milk cremolata, which is a frozen custard that uses almond milk instead of cream as its base.

We were first introduced to the concept of cremolata during dinner at Oleana, which I can confidently say is one of Cambridge's best restaurants. Even though a cremolata is of Italian origin, the food is Mediterranean, with a heavy Turkish influence. To be fair, it wasn't exactly love at first sight between me and the cremolata. I liked it, but the flavor was a bit too subtle for me.

In any case, we thought it might be an interesting challenge to recreate it at home. So, after a few months of procrastination, out came the ice cream maker and a quart of unsweetened almond milk, and a new recipe was born.

Coincidentally, Sortun's recipe for her cremolata is available online, but it seemed unnecessarily laborious - homemade almond milk! We opted for a store-bought version, and several scoops later, I'm not complaining. The only ingredients in her cremolata are almond milk and a smidge of sugar (hence the blandness), so I made some tweaks and additions to get a more robust flavor (see below).

The almond milk custard is simple to make, and it freezes to a delightfully custardy texture in the ice cream maker. Plus, it's low-fat. Even though I made this cremolata with an egg yolk, it could easily be omitted (perhaps in favor of more cornstarch) to make an unusually good vegan dessert.

I'm trying to think of some more tips and tricks for this, but it is pretty close to perfection just as is, perhaps with an almond biscotti or cookie on the side. If you have an ice cream maker, definitely make this. If not, buy one, and then make this. It's that good.

Almond Cremolata

2 1/2 c. unsweetened almond milk (I used Almond Breeze)
1/2 c. sugar
1 tbs. corn starch
1 egg yolk, beaten
pinch of salt
dash each of vanilla and almond extract

Mix 1/4 c. almond milk with corn starch and whisk until thoroughly combined. Heat remaining (2 1/4 c.) almond milk and sugar over low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Once mixture is hot, add a bit of the liquid to the egg yolk, whisking vigorously so that it doesn't scramble (this is called tempering). Add the egg yolk mixture to the almond milk, continuing to whisk to avoid scrambling. Add cornstarch mixture, salt, and extracts, and continue stirring until mixture thickens slightly. Remove from heat, allow to cool, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Before freezing in an ice cream maker, strain custard through a fine-meshed sieve to get rid of any rogue lumps. It is best served right after churning, but freezes well, too.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Bite From Last Night

Well, it's that time of year - finals and papers are upon us, and cooking has become a sneaky little excuse to procrastinate. Not surprisingly, procrastination is something we pretty much have down to an art. At least cooking is a more worthwhile endeavor than perusing Facebook.

Last night, we took a break from writing theses and reading economics papers to cook a Japanese-ish dinner for a few friends (bolstered by some take-out sushi). We served buckwheat soba noodles in a miso-ginger broth with shiitake mushrooms, cubes of soft tofu, and spinach. The leftover bite, though, was this lovely soy-sauce egg:

No time for any real recipes today - we've already taken our breaks by preparing some bread dough (bread updates coming soon!) - but these eggs are cute, tasty, and easy. Just prepare hard-boiled eggs, and when they cool slightly, crack the shells lightly all over. Simmer for half an hour or so in a broth of one part water, one part soy sauce, and flavored with fresh ginger if you like. Make sure the eggs are completely submerged, and let steep for a few minutes after simmering.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Homemade Bread: A Primer

Having decided to pursue home-baked bread in earnest, we picked up a copy of Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois' Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The title is alarmingly infomercial-like, but the content is decidedly unso. It is also a little vague -- it should be "Artisan Bread in an Average of Five Minutes a Day," since the dough-mixing day involves half an hour of measuring out cups of flour and then the other involve sliding the dough into the oven -- but our schedules conform to this regimen easily enough.

In an attempt to placate Mia, I picked the 100% whole wheat sandwich bread for the first experiment. In retrospect, the simple master recipe boule would have been the right choice, since in general the best way to develop any skill seems to be to start with its most basic application. But we like our germs and brans, so I reached for the bag of whole wheat flour and added it to the yeast, honey, olive oil, and milk waiting in the food processor. The authors suggest making a large amount of dough and then storing the residual in the refrigerator so that fresh bread can be available throughout the week without mixing more dough. Expecting to learn quickly by doing, I made half a recipe, enough for two small breads; luckily, this also happened to be the maximum amount of dough that fit in the food processor, so I didn't have to mix the dough by hand.

After mixing the few ingredients together and letting the dough rise for 3 hours in a covered bowl, we transferred the sticky blob to two cleaned-out quart-size yogurt containers and put them in the fridge. The dough expanded to fill the container, but there were no explosions or eruptions.

The next day, we removed the dough, shaped it, and put it on the pizza peel to rise again before going in the oven. After rising, we covered the top in flour and cut slashes in the bread:

Then we slid it off the peel and onto the warm baking stone. 55 minutes later, we had our first finished product.

Though I may have declared it an "unqualified success," our first bread's success wasn't without its qualifications. It tasted good and looked and felt like real bread. But the texture and moisture of the interior, and the crust, while not problematic, could stand improvement. We will continue to update you as our experiments unfold.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A Morning Quickie

Happy New Year! It certainly has been a while since our last post, which is ironic given that our holiday time is usually exploited for the sole purpose of food, cooking, baking, and dining. Indeed Jonathan and I did lots of the aforementioned activities over the past few weeks. I went on a Christmas cookie-baking bender, we tested out a new pizza peel and stone on a turbo-powered gas grill, dined like sustainable royalty at Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, CA, and even poked around at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market, in San Francisco (at which I had my first-ever taste of persimmon).

Sadly, a camera never seems to be accessible when I'm at my most photo-worthy (wrestling a soon-to-be-brined turkey, dusted in flour at 1am after having baked 10 batches of cookies), so the subject of this post is not some decadent holiday treat (the Greek walnut cookies were my favorite!), but a quick breakfast or brunch-time treat that works at any time of the year: banana walnut muffins.

Naturally, these are no ordinary muffins - they are laced with 70% bittersweet chocolate and fortified with whole grains. Really, though, they are quite simple to make and just the right amount of sweet for a morning muffin (let's face it - most bakery muffins are just cake in disguise).

The batch we made today was missing the walnuts, but they are good both with and without them. The chocolate, though, is a must. I am a strong advocate of finely chopping a chocolate bar as opposed to just adding chocolate chips - having fine shavings of chocolate incorporated into the muffin provides a nice, even, subtle chocolatey hit.

A note about bananas - this recipe, like all banana bread/muffin recipes, calls for very ripe, smashed bananas. Instead of keeping old bananas on the counter, try freezing them as soon as they get nicely mottled and ripe. That way, you can make muffins when the craving hits - just take the frozen bananas out of the freezer an hour or so before you want to bake with them. I will warn you that frozen ripe bananas turn completely black when thawed, but don't worry - they will taste fine in whatever recipe you're making.

"Healthy" Banana Nut Muffins

1 egg + 1 egg white
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. smashed ripe bananas (about 3)
1/2 c. buttermilk, or milk-thinned plain yogurt
2 tbs. vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 c. rolled oats
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. chopped toasted walnuts
4 tbs. shaved or finely chopped bittersweet chocolate

Mix oats with buttermilk in a small bowl, and stir to moisten. Let soften for a few minutes. Meanwhile, grease and flour 12 standard muffins cups, or line with paper liners. Beat eggs with brown sugar until thick and smooth. Mix in banana, buttermilk/oat mixture, oil, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Mix into wet ingredients and stir just until combined. Add nuts and chocolate and stir a few times to incorporate. Pour batter into prepared tin and bake at 350F for 16-18 minutes, or until tops are firm and dry to the touch.