Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Flax seed meal, what's that?

I'd heard of it, but never really paid any attention to it until Clint and I were watching an episode of Martha, where she has an allergen-free cookbook author cooking with her. This allergen-free cook caught Clint's attention when she started talking about egg substitutes (since Clint is so anti-egg, he says because of the cholesterol content, but he's been anti-egg since before he knew
his cholesterol was high).

1T flax seed meal + 3T water= 1 egg
And not only does this get rid of 1 egg, it adds a new source of omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. Even better, the taste test on the show selected the flax seed meal cookies as the better cookie.

I didn't really have a recipe to go by, but I thought oatmeal would be a good pairing for flax seed meal, while I learned my way around this new seed masquerading as a grain. (note: I had trouble finding flax seed meal at the normal processed-food-specialty grocery stores (Shaws, Big Y, Stop and Shop) but Whole Foods carries like 5 different kinds/brands.)

Flax seed meal oatmeal cranberry chocolate chip cookies
using the Quaker Oats oatmeal raisin cookie as a guide.

1 stick unsalted butter
1/2cup canola oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup turbinado sugar*
1t vanilla
2T flax seed meal, mixed with 6T warm water
1cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup + 2T all purpose flour
1t baking soda
1/4t salt
1/2t allspice (just for fun)
3 cups oats
3/4cup chocolate chips
1.25cups dried cranberries or raisins

Cream together butter and oil (I'd planned to use 6T oil instead of 8T, but I had exactly 8T left, so I decided to just use up the bottle), add sugars and beat for 2-3 min. Beat in flax seed meal/water and vanilla.Sift together flours, soda, salt, allspice, and stir in to the wet mixture in 2 batches. Stir in chocolate chips and cranberries/raisins.
Drop heaping tablespoons of dough on a cookie sheet, bake at 375F for 14 min. Makes 4-5 dozen cookies.
The one thing I like about these cookies (aside from not being scolded for snacking on the raw dough) is that they have a real depth of flavor that the regular recipe doesn't have. The regular recipe is sweet, a little vanilla-y, and has great texture, but these have this earthiness that I really love. I'm not sure if it's the whole wheat flour or the flax seed meal, but it's good. You can expect more use of flax seed meal here.

And they're still delicious the next day- nice and soft, and just as flavorful.

*Note: if you use white sugar instead of turbinado (which is fine), use 1cup brown sugar, 1/2cup white sugar.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Picking recipes with your eyes closed

You know, kind of like pin the tail on the donkey.

You want to cook something. You're just itching to create something to snack on. So you take the first recipe you can find.

Do you do this? I do this. Sometimes it works. Sometimes.... well, one batch of anything usually doesn't make all that much.

But sometimes.... it's fantastic.

Random Recipe #1

The other day, in the morning, when I'd planned to go home for lunch (and because we were having some scheduling issues at work, which prevented me from being to actually do any work until well after lunch), I randomly happened across a recommendation of this recipe. A recipe for sweet, spiced nuts. Spiced nuts? Yum. And we'd just read an article in Cooking Light the day before about healthy fats, something my household pays attention to, due to half its residents having high cholesterol issues. So tasty nuts seemed like a great snack food to have on hand.

So I went home for lunch. Lunch was leftover chicken veggie soup with freshly-made dumplings. I made the spicy nut recipe while waiting for the dumplings to cook (about 15 min).

Toast 2 cups of nuts. Whatever nuts you like. I used almonds, hazelnuts and pecans, because that's what I had on hand. Toast them in a large skillet (so they're pretty much in one layer, not in a pile) for 2-3 min over medium-high heat. Then set them aside.

Combine 1/4cup brown sugar, 1/4t cumin, 1/4t chipotle powder, 1/2t cinnamon, and 1/2t salt in a small bowl. Dump that in the skillet, along with 1T butter and 1T water. Melt the butter, combine all, and cook for 2 min, until a syrup forms and starts to bubble.
Then pour in the toasted nuts, stir to coat, and keep stirring occasionally for 2 min.

Then spread out the nuts on a parchment, foil or waxed paper-lined baking sheet to cool for at least 10 min. Then break up any clumps, and store in a sealed container.

That's it. And they're quite delicious.

The other "I feel like cooking, here's the first recipe I find" recipe was the April 2010 Martha Stewart Living's "Best" Chocolate chip cookie.

Best? huh. It's described as a cookie that can satisfy both the crunchy and chewy cookie parties. And as my husband said after eating 3, if this recipe isn't the best, I'd like to see what is.

I modified the recipe slightly, and we still think it's great. I haven't made the original completely following the recipe, so I think you're safe with either that or my modified version.

Cream 2.5 sticks of butter with 1.25 cup brown sugar and 3/4 cup sugar. Beat in 2 eggs (one at a time) and 1t vanilla.

Sift together 1.5 cup all purpose flour, 3/4 cup whole wheat flour (my change, original was 2.25cups all purpose flour), 1t baking powder, 1t baking soda and 1t salt.

Stir the flour mixture into the butter/sugar/egg mixture, beating just til combined. Stir in 2cups chocolate chips (original recipe says 1.5cups chocolate chips, that's just not enough!).

Drop 1-3T of dough on a cookie sheet, bake for about 15 min at 350F. (The original said 3T of dough; that's a huge cookie. I did some batches of 1T, some of 2T.)

Important note: don't overbake these. Take them out of the oven when they don't quite look done (maybe 2min short of being done), then leave them on the baking sheet for a few minutes, or else take them out just as they look done, and transfer them to a wire rack immediately to cool. They will get crunchy the next day if you don't (as I did with the smaller ones).

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thank you, Whole Foods.

Last weekend I was in CT, staying with my parents. Near my parents' house is a relatively new Whole Foods. We don't have WF near us (closest one is a 45 min drive), so when Sunday turned out to be cloudy and fairly dismal, and I was exhausted from the day before, I suggested we go take a trip to Whole Foods. Mom came with me.

Ok so sometimes, I like to go to grocery stores and just look around. I think it's useful when you get to a new place, to take some time to familiarize yourself with your new store, so that when you have 5 minutes to run in for 3 items, you actually know where those items are. But aside from learning the organization of a store, I just like to see what there is. Window shop, if you will. A coworker declared that I'm weird for doing this in a grocery store, and maybe she's right. But Whole Foods can offer me things I can't get at the local Big Y, which seems to specialize in high quality every-day produce (for example, they do not carry beets. Just forget it) and has every kind of potato chip and processed snack food you can possibly imagine. So browsing around Whole Foods had a lot of potential as a really enjoyable pastime.

So in my trip to Whole Foods, I purchased a few types of produce Big Y doesn't have (leeks, golden beets, red beets) and some unusual cheeses (an Irish stout cheddar, and some french cheese I can't even remember the name of). And even more exciting that simply being able to buy beets: my beets had greens still attached! I recently learned from Alton Brown that beet greens are tasty (I'm sure if I grew up in the south, where they eat kale and collard greens often, I'd know that, but the only kind of green I know goes in a salad).

Thanks to Whole Foods, I give you

Beet Green and Spinach Sweet Potato Gratin, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen.

Her recipe calls for swiss chard, but I have the understanding that most greens are interchangeable. So I used 10oz of beet greens (from 2 bunches of 3 beets each) and 1lb of spinach.

The recipe's pretty easy, if a little time-consuming (but oh so worth the effort).

Saute 1 chopped onion in a large pot with 1T butter, over medium-low heat, until the onion is translucent. Add handfuls of greens and cook over medium heat.
Add more handfuls as the greens wilt down, and you can fit more in.
Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle in 1/2t nutmeg. Cook for about 5 minutes, then remove from heat, transfer the greens to a colander, and press to drain out the water. Set aside to drain.

Combine 2 cloves minced garlic and 1 cup of whole milk or cream (I used 2T whipping cream and the rest 1% milk, to equal 1cup) in a saucepan, and bring the milk to a simmer, cook 2 minutes and then turn heat to very low to keep warm. Season with a little salt and pepper.
In a small saucepan, melt 1T butter, and then whisk in 1T flour (this is a roux).
Cook for 2 min, whisking constantly, then slowly add the milk mixture. Cook 2 min more, whisking frequently, until thick. This is a bechamel sauce. Remove from heat.

Slice 1lb of sweet potato (I used 1 huge one, just slightly over 1lb) into 1/8inch thick slices. (ok honestly, I looked at this and thought, ?!???! That's pretty thin! Then I remembered my husband owns a mandoline, a gadget I complain about almost daily, because it jams the drawer where we keep it, and with this ridiculously sharp blade, I'm kind of terrified of unjamming it and slicing my hand off in the process. But I used it, and no longer hate it.)
So use a mandoline (or the chopping blade in your food processor) to slice the sweet potato.

You'll also need 2t thyme (I used dried) and 1cup grated cheese (gruyere is preferable, I used a mix of gruyere, asiago and sharp cheddar)

Then assemble.

Spray an 8x8in pan. Place a layer of overlapping sweet potato slices in the bottom (about half of them),
then spread half the greens over that.
Sprinkle 1t thyme over, then 1/3 cup of cheese. Spread half the bechamel sauce (I forgot this, and ended up with all the bechamel sauce on the very top- I always do this with layered dishes, but it still came out fine). Then repeat: sweet potatoes, greens, thyme, cheese, bechamel. End with the remaining cheese.

Bake at 400F for 1hour.

SK complained that her gratin was a little wet, but so was mine. I guess we're not draining the greens well enough- but really, it's still delicious.

And just because they're so pretty, here are the beets that were attached to the greens. I roasted them (washed, stems cut off, but not peeled,) wrapped up in tin foil with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, at 400oF for about 1.5 hrs. I peeled them when they were cool enough to touch (you just hold a beet in your hand and rub, and the skin comes off easily), sliced them, seasoned with salt and pepper and threw in some crumbled chevre. This was my lunch today, hence the tupperware and not a nice plate.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Candied Citus Peel: A Saga

In January, my husband bought me 2 cases of grapefruit: one white, one red. As I ate grapefruit after grapefruit (one of my very favorite fruits), I was sort of sad that I ended up with all these grapefruit rinds in the garbage. Is there any way to use these? (short of composting, I mean, there are too many wild animals in our neighborhood to make me comfortable with a compost heap in our tiny backyard)

Well, yes, there are things to do with citrus rinds. The first thing I never got around to making, but I still think it's a cute idea: cupcakes baked in orange rind "wrappers".

The second thing is to candy the peels. I like this idea. I've wanted to candy a number of things for a long time (citrus peels, violets, basil), but I never had.

Thus started the grand experiment. This is a blog post 2 months in the making.

First, I cut up all my grapefruit and orange peels. You don't want to know how many I had, let's just say each individual batch had the rinds of 15-20 fruits, and we're currently (as of March 17) on batch 4, with at least 1 more batch to go. Yes, we eat a lot of citrus. The funny part is I used to have a citrus allergy- either I outgrew it or I fought it and won, because after years of allergic reactions, I get nothing from 4 grapefruits a day. (I simply adore grapefruit.)

I cut the rinds first into halves, then quarters, then each quarter into 3 or 4 long strips.

Then you boil them. Throw as many strips as will fit into whatever pot you have, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil. Boil for about 5 min, drain, fill with fresh cold water, boil again. Then do this once or twice more- the point of this (while probably getting rid of the residue covering the outside of the peels as well) is to make the peels less bitter.
Boil 1

Boil 2
Boil 3.

This next part is where I got into trouble. Martha says to combine 1.5 cups of sugar with 1 cup of water and bring to a boil over medium heat (no temperature recommended, but they says it takes about 3 min for the sugar to fully dissolve) and throw in the peels. Boil about 12 min, then turn off heat and let the peels sit in the syrup for about an hour. Drain the syrup (save for sweetening iced tea or other drinks- good point, citrus bellini, anyone?) and use the peels.

However, what it doesn't say is that there are several types of candied peels out there. The ones I'm thinking of are generally dipped in chocolate and are dry and solid. There are also the sticky candied peels, commonly used in fruitcakes. Martha's are the second kind, which are soft and basically wet/sticky. But I didn't know that.

So I consulted another recipe that had essentially the same recipe, but ended with drying the peels spread out on a rack 4-5 hours, then coating them in granulated sugar. I tried this.

I let them sit overnight, I was tired. I coated them in sugar, and let them sit longer.

And you know what? After a few hours, they were soaking wet. They were so waterlogged from the candying process that all the sugar coating them basically melted into a sticky goo.
So I tried drying them. In the oven, at 250oF, for an hour. I coated them in sugar, and left them alone (inside the turned-off oven) for 48 hrs.

They were still soaking wet.

And I despaired a bit. I had a ton of grapefruit peels waiting to be candied, and I was failing miserably at it.

So I found a new recipe. I boiled all those wet, sugary peels in another round of water, and followed the new candying process.

I combined 1.5cups water with 4.5cups sugar in a large pot over high heat, until it reached 230oF (took about 10 min on my electric stove, 15-20 min on my parents' gas stove). I added the peel, stirred a bit to make sure all the peels were coated in the syrup, and ignored it for 45 minutes.

The result was a mass of solid, slightly stuck-together peels, coated in sugar of a maple sugar candy hardness- solid, but not rock-hard.
The leftover syrup, which I was told would make a nice simple syrup for iced tea, was a mass of maple sugar candy-like citrus-flavored substance (actually quite tasty). I also burned the bottom layer of peels, oops.
However, this was more of the consistency I was looking for.

The next batch were boiled in the syrup for only 30 minutes, instead of 45. I did not burn any peels, the leftover syrup was still pretty solid, and the peels had exactly the texture I was looking for- very similar to candied pineapple you can buy.

Phew! I seem to have figured this out.

The third batch I made was at my parents' house, where I actually reread the recipe.... and noticed that you're supposed to turn the burner down to low after adding the peels to the boiling sugar. Oops. So I tried that, and ended up with a much softer peel that's still wet after 3 days.

So, now I can say I've figured out how to do this.

Boil your peels. Use 6-8 fruits' worth of peels for a manageable batch. Boil them 3-4 times as described in the beginning. Combine 1.5cups water with 4.5cups sugar, bring to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Boil until temp reaches 230oF. Add the peels, and bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium-high. Boil for 35-40 minutes, stirring gently a couple times during the process, so the peels on the bottom don't stay there the whole time and burn. Remove the peels, spread out on a rack to cool and dry.

And that should work.

What did I do with the wet peels from the third batch? Why, I incorporated them into Bread Sunday #8.
Hot Cross Buns with candied grapefruit peel and flame raisins

Normally I would give you a King Arthur Recipe, but honestly (and this is probably the only time I'll ever say this, I'm such a loyal KAF girl), I don't really care for their HCB recipe. They're kind of dense and dry. I've made them for many Easters now, but this time I branched out, with great success.

Combine 1 envelope/2.25t of active dry yeast with 1t sugar in 1/2cup warm water. Let sit for awhile (10-15min). Note: do this in the bowl you plan to make your bread in, to save you from washing multiple bowls unnecessarily.

Whisk together 2cups flour, 1/2t allspice, 1/2t cinnamon, 1/2t salt, 1/2cup sugar. Add half of that to the yeast. Add 5T softened butter and 1 egg, mix well. Add a second egg, Mix. Add the remaining flour.

Knead for a few minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic. This dough is pretty soft.

Let rise in a warm place, about 2 hrs (I let it sit for 4, and it was enormous- very fun.)

Knead in your fruit of choice: I used about 1/3cup each of flame raisins and finely chopped grapefruit peels. Divide dough in half, roll each half into a snake/log, and divide each log in half and then into thirds (12 pieces total), and roll each piece of dough into a ball. Spread out on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap/a towel and let rise for another 45 minutes. Quickly slice an X into the top of each bun with a sharp knife. Bake at 400F for 10-12 minutes.

Optional (and I didn't do it, but will next time I make these): when buns are cool, make a milk/powdered sugar glaze (mix 1t milk and 1/2cup powdered sugar, stir until lumps are gone) and drizzle over the buns (or in an X shape on the tops).

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cooking, the old fashioned way

This weekend I attended at cooking demonstration at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, CT.

We watched/learned/participated in a hearth cooking lesson (we made apple pear crumble), and had a tour of the house. This was so my thing. History, cooking and being historically accurate?! Awesome!

We started out with some interesting bits of information.
The hearth we cooked in is a replica of a hearth from a 1730s home in Suffield, CT. By this time, the oven part was place to the side of the fireplace, rather than in the fireplace, as it had been before.
(Image borrowed from Colonial American Life without permission, hopefully they don't mind. Incidentally, I found that blog from a google search, but it's really interesting. Go check it out, if you're into Colonial American stuff)

You can see in the above photo that the oven, the dome-shaped hole, is pretty much above where the fire would be burning. A cook would shovel hot coals into the oven, let it warm up (for about 2 hours), remove the coals and then insert the item to be baked. All while a fire is burning. Can you imagine doing this in long skirts and petticoats?

So in the 18th century, someone came up with the idea of putting the oven on the side, near enough to the fire to shovel the coals in, but so that one wouldn't have to step over the fire to get to the oven. Much better.

Another important invention was an iron bar on a hinge that could swing out of the fireplace. Most cooking was done by hanging things on this bar, at an appropriate distance from the open flame. It was difficult to get things onto the bar by leaning over the fire, but having one that could swing out made things much safer.

And here, I thought the most dangerous part of everyday cooking was burning your hand on a hot pot.

Baking was not only accomplished in a oven as we think of it (a hot box set off to the side somewhere), but also in Dutch ovens. These could be placed on top of a bed of coals, the lid would fit over the base (containing the item to be baked), and a layer of hot coals would be placed on top. One benefit is that the item would bake more evenly- and more quickly, since none of the hot air can escape. (Note: if you ever use a dutch oven to cook meat that's been marinaded in any alcohol, cut down on the alcohol you add, because it won't evaporate like it will in a regular oven. Iiiiiinteresting.)

Colonial Americans were complete localvores- they had to be. Now we do it because it's trendy, or because we'd rather support the farm down the road, or because we'd prefer not to waste energy transporting apples from Oregon. But 300 years ago, there was no choice. People in CT ate a lot of fruit (apples, pears, berries, grapes), corn (mostly ground into meal), oats, other local veggies (squash and things from their gardens), and whatever animals were produced locally. Apparently, Farmington was big on sheep (Wolves eat sheep. Wolf Pit Rd is so named because it was formerly a grassy area where they dug pits, covered them with brush, and hoped a wolf would fall in, where they would kill it and turn its pelt in for a reward from the government. Interesting!) Farmington was not big on wheat- it was too humid to grow it there, it usually got too moldy to harvest very much. Threrefore, white flour was fairly expensive, and saved for special occasions. Cornmeal was much more commonly used.

They did, however, import spices and sugar. Sugar was usually brown sugar, which was cheaper, and white sugar was shipped in cone forms, to chip away at when you had tea (not used for cooking as often). Cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves were popular, and were all used whole. Cinnamon and nutmeg (I'm sure everyone knows why CT is called the Nutmeg State) were grated with a grater, and cloves were ground with a mortar and pestle.

Measuring was as precise as it is now, but focused solely on the ratios. Cooks often had a dedicated cooking cup- a mug, a chipped cup, whatever. They knew how much it held, and how to cook with it. It's only recently that the "cup" has turned into an 8oz standard measurement, probably since people don't learn from doing as much as they did 300 years ago.

This is what we learned.

This is what we baked:
Apple Pear Crumble

Thinly slice 10 pieces of fruit (a combination of apples and pears, or if using all apples, make sure to use 2 or 3 different varieties of apple, to make more of an interesting flavor). Place in a bowl and pour in enough apple juice to cover all the fruit (about 1cup). Add in 1/2 cup of dried cranberries (or raisins). Sprinkle in 1t cinnamon, 1t nutmeg, and 1/4t cloves. Stir, and set aside.

Whisk together 1cup of whole oats, 1/2cup whole wheat flour (white flour was the most expensive type of flour back then), 1t cinnamon, 1/2cup brown sugar (packed). Melt 1 stick + 1-2T butter and stir into the dry ingredients. (the original recipe actually calls for 2 sticks + 2T butter, which I decided is excessive and unnecessary- we don't need to pack in the calories like they did 300 years ago)

Spoon the apples/pears into a baking dish, spread evenly. Pour the juice over the apples.
Spread the oat brown sugar topping over the apples. It doesn't have to cover the entire thing, but it should be spread fairly evenly.

Your dutch oven should have been heating over the fire while you were doing this. (oh, don't you have a cast iron dutch oven and a hearth? Bummer. Preheat the oven to 375oF, then.)

Place the baking dish inside the oven, and place the lid on securely.
Place the dutch oven on the bed of coals, cover the lid (it really needs to be on tight) with a layer of hot coals, and bake for about 30 min. Or, use your 21st century oven and don't be authentic (but bake for about 1hr 15-30min). Bah.

Then eat. Topping a serving with ice cream is not authentic, but I won't say anything.

Note: this topping is better than most of the toppings I've made before. This is now my go-to apple crumble recipe. And I'd need a whole other post on crumble/cobbler/crisp/buckle/grunt. I still haven't figured out the exact differences.

EDIT:After baking this in a modern oven, I have some notes. Bake longer: I ended up baking this in my covered braiser for 1hr 15min, which was fine, but it was much better the next day, after I stuck it in the oven to warm up, and ended up leaving it in there, turning the oven off after 30 min, until we felt like eating it- about an hour. 
And I also noticed that at the Stanley Whitman House, she used something other than Quaker Old Fashioned oats. I may have to do a little oat research to figure out what kind she used, because I preferred hers over mine.