Sunday, March 29, 2009

Evan's Gumbo

It's live blogging time here (though I won't publish until we're all done). Evan is making gumbo right now to a rapt audience of a toddler and I'm finally going to capture the recipe! Elspeth quickly mastered the word 'gumbo' last time we had it and would scream it gleefully every meal. Now she has pirated an enormous quantity of ham and keeps calling for more. 'HAM!' she exhorts.

This may be the number one family favorite. One batch makes enough for 4 or 5 nights of dinner for our family, served with the Cajun Adaptation of Baked Brown Rice. It also freezes really well. This week, we'll be alternating gumbo with Roasted Squash 'Foup', which I made this time with red lentils for the best texture ever. Amazingly, neither of these meals has ground greens in it, but both would not be harmed by them!

We've taken to keeping ham and okra in the freezer so we can easily make this dish. We may have to buy celery and green peppers at the store. This summer, I'll buy green peppers from the farmers' market to freeze, as I did with the red, orange and yellow last year.

INGREDIENTS
1 TBSP (sweet) paprika
1/2-1 tsp ground white pepper
2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp cayenne (optional)
1 tsp dried basil
2 TBSP oil
2 pkg okra, thawed (1 lb each--we use frozen since it's nearly impossible to get fresh)
3 c. onions (approx 2 onions), diced
2 c. green pepper, diced (approx 1-2 peppers)
2 c. celery, diced (approx 4-6 ribs)
4 bay leaves
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 lb ham
1 1/2 lb smoked andouille sausage (we have started using smoked kielbasa to make it toddler-friendly)
8 c. chicken stock (ours is homemade unsalted--be careful of salt if using storebought)

DIRECTIONS
  1. Mix all of the spices together in small bowl and set aside
  2. Heat a 7 qt. Dutch oven over medium and add the oil
  3. Once the oil is hot, add one package of okra
  4. Saute the okra until soft
  5. Add the onions, pepper and celery and continue saute until soft
  6. Add remaining ingredients; bring the gumbo to a boil
  7. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about an hour
  8. To serve, put some Cajun brown rice in a bowl and ladle over a generous serving of gumbo

Friday, March 20, 2009

Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins

When I feel we need a change from Flax Bran Muffins, this is one of my go-to recipes. I've rehabilitated it from the low-fat, oat bran earnestness of its era of origination into something I find tasty and nutritious. I had some grated zucchini in the freezer, so I did a combination of applesauce and zucchini that work very well indeed. I resisted the temptation to add chopped walnuts. I like nuts in muffins particularly if I want it to be a stand-alone breakfast so I don't have to worry about where the protein is coming from. However, we go to a nut-free preschool and it would be nice to have an easy snack to offer Elspeth. If you do decide to add nuts, I think chopped walnuts are the nicest; you'd probably also have good luck adding 1/2 cup of ground almonds.

These days, I'm finding excellent results with my oat recipes when I grind some of the oats into a flour and add some whole for texture. The original recipe didn't call for grinding and you could make it successfully that way. The oat flour does make for a better texture, though.

The imperfection I find in this recipe is that I often detect a slightly tinny taste, which I am guessing is due to too much baking soda or baking powder. If it bothers you, you could experiment with reducing the amounts to find the perfect balance of rise and flavor.

February 2017 finally solved the tinny taste: just use plain unsweetened yogurt or whey instead of milk! The muffins will be even fluffier and the tinny taste disappears because of the reaction between the acid of the yogurt with the alkaline of the baking soda.

I got exactly one dozen muffins out of this recipe.

INGREDIENTS
3/4 c. oats, ground into a flour
3/4 c. whole rolled oats
3/4 c. (3.75 oz) whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c. ground flaxseeds
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 c. chopped walnuts OR ground almonds (optional)
1 c. unsweetened applesauce (I made sauce from 2 apples)
OR 3/4 c. applesauce plus 3/4 c. grated zucchini OR 1 c. unsweetened spiced plum sauce
1/2 c. milk (suspecting non-dairy milk would be fine; yogurt, whey or kefir is the best)
1/2 c. light or dark brown sugar, packed
3 TBSP oil
1 egg

OPTIONAL TOPPING:
Combine 1/4 c . oats, 1 TBSP brown sugar and 1 TBSP melted butter. Distribute evenly over muffins and press slightly to help keep the topping on

DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with papers or spray with baking spray. I actually use a silicone muffin mold placed on a baking tray to avoid liners and spray
  2. Combine the flours, oats, flaxseeds, baking soda and powder, cinnamon, salt and nuts if using in a large bowl
  3. In a smaller bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and stir well
  4. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and stir just until combined
  5. Scoop into a muffin tin and bake for 20 minutes or until golden (mine were actually done a few minutes early)
  6. Remove from oven, cool for a few minutes, and then remove from muffin tin

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Favorite Pizza Sauce

As mentioned in the Spanish-Themed Cauliflower Soup recipe, I'm going to post my all-time favorite pizza sauce recipe from Patricia Wells. I haven't made homemade pizza since before Elspeth was born, which is a real shame, especially now that I want to try adding a layer of ground greens. (Taking inspiration from a Pegasus Pizza concoction, we have been putting spinach, frizzled chorizo and pine nuts on our pizza for years).

Funnily enough, Wells doesn't use the sauce for pizza at all, but for penne with zucchini. She calls it pizza sauce because the tomato/garlic/oregano combination is traditional for pizza.

I've modified her recipe over time to reduce the oil somewhat and streamline it since I'm not using the zucchini. I also use an immersion blender on it to ensure that the sauce is well integrated. I like some chunkiness but I want to avoid any wateriness or separation. Using canned ground tomatoes (like Muir Glen makes) is also a good option.

This sauce freezes very well and could be used over pasta if you don't want to make pizza.

INGREDIENTS
3-4 TBSP olive oil
2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, minced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/8 to 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (we used to make it spicier in pre-Elspeth days)
6-8 plump garlic cloves, slivered
28 oz can of tomatoes (whole, ground, or chopped)
Salt and pepper to taste
Balsamic vinegar to taste (optional)

DIRECTIONS
  1. In an unheated medium skillet or pot, combine the olive oil, rosemary, oregano, red pepper flakes and garlic. Stir to coat thoroughly with oil
  2. Cook over medium heat until the garlic is golden but not at all browned (2-5 minutes)
  3. Add the tomatoes. If using whole tomatoes, put them through a food mill or food processor before adding to sauce
  4. Bring sauce to boil then reduce to simmer
  5. Let the sauce simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until it begins to thicken, 15-25 minutes
  6. If you haven't used ground tomatoes or whole tomatoes that you've processed, you may wish to use an immersion blender on the sauce now. If the sauce still isn't the texture you prefer, you might wish to add a squirt or two of double-concentrated tomato paste (Cook's Illustrated chose Amore tomato paste in a tube as their winner)
  7. Taste an adjust seasonings. Add balsamic vinegar if desired
  8. Remove from heat and use as a pizza sauce or pasta topping

Spanish-Themed Cauliflower Soup

This recipe is certainly a work in progress, though I think it has a lot of potential. It's a good example of my favorite way of cooking--one inspiration sparking another and then another. Yet again it's a Melanie connection. Melanie loved the idea of the Clementine Aioli and decided to try to translate it into soup. She said it was good, but not perfect. What an excellent idea, I thought, and decided to try my hand at it, too (without talking to Melanie about her approach).

I call my attempt Spanish-themed because, with nearly complete ignorance of Spanish food, it seemed to me kind of Spanishy to have garlic, olive oil, saffron and orange in there. If I wanted to Spanish it up even more, I'd consider adding some breadcrumbs or even ground almonds as a thickener (kind of like Romesco sauce). Of course, the real Spanish touch would have been to add smoked paprika, but I wanted to test myself by making that ingredient off limits, since I use it as a crutch so often.

Who knows if Melanie and I did the same thing or not, but our results were very similar: this soup is tasty, but astonishingly subtle. I say astonishingly because I don't think of cauliflower, garlic and saffron as subtle, certainly not in the quantities I used. The subtlety and lightness make this soup great for a first course, but not necessarily for a main course. Since we almost never have first courses in this household, this dooms it to the rarely-to-be-made category unless I solve some of the basic issues. Happily, I've got some ideas.

I'm going to give my guess at what the Version II of the recipe would look like, instead of giving you the original recipe. You really wouldn't want to bother with the original unless you were after an elegant first course soup. I will, of course, talk through my ideas.

I think that the soup needs a lot more fat. My theory here is that fat is a great deliverer of flavor. Without a good amount of fat, the garlic, orange and saffron were getting lost. To enhance the garlic flavor further, I'll use a Patricia Wells technique of cutting the garlic into slivers from the 'Penne with Zucchini and Spicy Pizza Sauce' recipe in the Trattoria cookbook (and I'm sure end up posting the sauce recipe, too, as it's now my standard pizza sauce). I also will add more orange zest. I had thought that orange juice was the way to go and I will still use some. But, as with the orange sauce from the Tofu with Orange Sauce recipe, it's very difficult to concentrate that flavor (and I don't think that orange juice concentrate would be better--I remember it having too cooked a taste).

I made my usual mistake the first time by adding way too much liquid. This meant I was scrambling to find good thickeners and battling 'thin' flavor. Silly me, I only had one can of white beans and that didn't do the job. I added a can of chickpeas, which are in keeping with the Spanish theme, but really there should have been only one type of legume in there. The soup was still not thick enough (poor Elspeth had to eat it over rice--not Spanish rice--to be able to get anything on her little spoon). The solution was potatoes (added the next day, in fact). I boiled some potatoes, added them to the soup and re-pureed the whole thing. Now the texture is luscious. I didn't start with potatoes because I wanted the protein that legumes provide since I'm trying to get a one-pot dinner out of this. Perhaps it's weird to have both legumes and potatoes in the soup, but I'd do it again to serve my nutritional goals.

Elspeth liked the soup okay over rice, but vastly preferred the potato-enhanced version. She particularly dug it once I added some small chunks of home-smoked sausage. (Thank you Evan for smoking up 12 pounds of sausage at a time so we can have a freezerful at the ready.) In her case, I used English bangers. For myself, I went a Moorish direction (kind of, sort of) by using merguez. The spicy merguez probably overwhelmed my meek little soup, but I still found the combination good to eat. If you are looking for a non-vegetarian version hearty enough for dinner, I recommend the sausage addition--you can just add it bowl by bowl since it's already fully-cooked.

Another good option would be to add small chunks of Spanish smoked chorizo, possibly lightly frizzled in a pan first to release some of the fat. There's a way to get in smoked paprika without violating my self-imposed dictum against it. It's not spicy, so the whole family could eat it. I was just looking on the Internet to see if I've reinvented an already-existing and tastier wheel with this soup and someone recommended making chorizo breadcrumbs! You saute the chorizo and then add breadcrumbs to soak up the wonderful pork-paprika fat. This idea is worth exploring...

Good news for anyone who is not a cruciferous vegetable fan: I don't think that someone who wasn't in the know would be able to identify this as cauliflower soup. To me that isn't a plus, but I am not sure there's much I could do about it without leaving the soup chunky and that doesn't appeal to me. Perhaps if I got the stock-to-ingredients ratio right, the cauliflower flavor might have more of a shot.

I think this recipe will change again after I try out Version II and make plans for Version III. How much cauliflower soup can one family handle?

INGREDIENTS
1/4 to 1/3 c. olive oil
8 cloves garlic, slivered
3 stalks celery, chopped (optional)
2 carrots, chopped (optional)
1 head cauliflower, chopped into medium-sized pieces
1-2 lb potatoes, chopped into pieces the same size as the cauliflower
1 tsp ground coriander (optional)
5 c. vegetable or chicken stock (or water, if that's all you've got)
1 large pinch saffron
1-2 cans white beans, rinsed and drained
Zest of one orange
1 c. orange juice or the juice of the orange you've zested
Salt and pepper to taste
Champagne or sherry vinegar for brightness if desired

Optional additions to each bowl: garlic croutons, chunks of smoked merguez or Spanish chorizo, chorizo breadcrumbs, chopped or slivered toasted almonds, a swirl of olive oil

DIRECTIONS
  1. In an unheated medium to large Dutch oven or pot, combine the olive oil and garlic, stirring to coat the garlic thoroughly with oil
  2. Turn the heat to medium or medium-low and very gently cook the garlic for a few minutes to release the flavor into the oil. You definitely do not want to brown the garlic
  3. Add the celery, carrot, cauliflower, potatoes, coriander and stock or water to the pot
  4. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer
  5. Let simmer until the cauliflower and potatoes are tender (this took much longer than I thought it would--my chunks may have been too big)
  6. While the soup is simmering, let the saffron 'bloom'--place the pinch of saffron in a small bowl and cover with hot (not boiling) water. Let sit for at least 15 minutes
  7. Once the vegetables in the pot are tender, add the beans, orange juice, bloomed saffron and its water. It's important that you do not let the soup boil again after this to protect the delicate flavors
  8. Puree the soup until completely smooth, ideally using an immersion blender (transferring hot soup to a stand blender is the pits). You may need to add some more stock or water if I've got the proportions wrong; alternatively, this would be the time to add the second can of beans if I've messed it up in that direction
  9. Add the orange zest, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding some vinegar if necessary
  10. Serve immediately with desired toppings or cool and serve the following day--the flavor might even be better

Carrot Bar Cookies--Recipe Makeover

In my never-ending quest for simplicity and tastiness, I ended up completely revamping the original Vegan Carrot Cookie recipe. I decided it makes the most sense to publish the two version separately. Personally, I'll be making only the bar cookie version from now on, but the original recipe from The Natural Health Cookbook is certainly just fine.

Some of the major differences between my makeover and the original recipe are as follows:
  • The recipe is no longer vegan, since I added an egg. If you want to keep the new recipe vegan, use flaxseed as an egg substitute: mix 1 TBSP ground flaxseeds with 2-3 TBSP water--the site I looked at suggested simmering the mixture for a few minutes, but I am pretty sure I've also seen it done raw
  • I used less whole wheat flour and ground up some of the oats into flour. I think this helped to lighten the texture
  • I ground up the carrots instead of grating them. I also used probably double the amount of carrots than I used to. I think that the carrot flavor is better distributed through the cookies with this method
  • I reduced the oil since the egg provides fat
  • I lowered the oven temperature and increased the baking time
This new version of the cookies ended up being delightfully fluffy and light. It's so much simpler to press the batter into an 8x8 inch square pan than making individual drop cookies. These cookies aren't about crispness (makes sense, since the original name is 'Chewy Carrot Cookies'), so you don't lose any lovely brown-n-crispy bits by the change.

INGREDIENTS
3/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c. rolled or steel-cut oats ground into flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c. rolled oats or unsweetened muesli (not ground)
1/2 c. walnuts
1/2 c. raisins or other dried fruit
1 1/2 to 2 c. shredded carrot (4-6 carrots)
1 egg
1/2 c. maple syrup (could be reduced; I'm guessing agave would also work)
1/4 c. vegetable oil (original recipe specified corn; I used vegetable but am thinking coconut oil would also be delicious)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease or spray an 8x8 inch square pan (I used a glass pan; if you use metal you may need to lessen cooking time)
  2. Toast the walnuts and then chop; set aside
  3. Whip the syrup, oil, vanilla and egg or flax slurry in a small bowl
  4. Grind the carrots finely in a food processor and stir into the syrup-egg mixture; set aside
  5. Grind up the oats in a coffee mill or other grinder
  6. Combine the wheat and oat flours with baking powder, salt and rolled oats in a large bowl
  7. Stir in walnuts and raisins (you'll want to use the flour to help separate any raisin clumps)
  8. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir until well blended
  9. Press cookie mixture into the 8x8 inch pan
  10. Bake until golden and slightly cracked on top, 20-30 minutes
  11. Remove from oven; let cool slightly, then cut into 16 squares (you could cut into smaller squares if you've got kids)

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Glories of Ground Greens

Ever since I hit on the technique of using the food processor for greens that I shared in the Delcious but Not Deceptive pasta puttanesca recipe makeover, I've been finding uses for them everywhere. We love the taste of greens, so perhaps everything we're eating tastes strongly of them and we're just not noticing, but I think that finely grinding the greens in the food processor mellows them out. I haven't had any twinges of bitterness or squeaking teeth enamel that I sometimes get from greens overload. Elspeth is going to think that almost every dish naturally has flecks of green in it. I will never lie to her about what the green stuff is and if she turns out to me more sensitive than me and Evan, the greens will go on the side to be added by those who wish it. But I love this new way of using the greens we become overloaded with in our CSA basket and of adding extra nutrition to our meals. The greens also smell soooo green (kind of like grass, really)--very refreshing.

I add these steamed ground greens to all our whole grains and pasta. I think they will be delightful as a thin layer under the sauce of homemade pizza (which I'll make again soon and post about). We already know they're excellent in puttanesca sauce. The possibilities are legion.

INGREDIENTS
1 bunch greens (we do tend to prefer the kale family)
Splash of water

DIRECTIONS
  1. Take the stems off the greens (I use my garden shears) and wash them well
  2. Grind the greens very finely in a food processor
  3. Place greens in a microwave-safe bowl with a lid
  4. Add a splash of water to the greens and loosely put on the lid
  5. Cook in the microwave on high power for about 3 minutes
  6. Use with abandon in a myriad of applications!

Baked Brown Rice and Cajun Adaptation

Though I'd say I have had pretty good luck with making brown rice on the stove, I'm currently enamored of the Cook's Illustrated 'Foolproof Oven-Baked Brown Rice' recipe. Oftentimes I'll need to use most of the burners on the stove and I love the ease of throwing the rice in the oven and forgetting about it. We do have a rice cooker (two, actually), but one is far too big to make rice for a small family and the other takes 2 hours to cook brown rice. We never have two hours to spare for cooking rice.

Evan made gumbo again recently (really, we will get that recipe on here at some point!) and we did Paul Prudhomme's Basic Rice recipe from Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen using Cook's method and were pleased with the outcome. His recipe may actually be Creole rather than Cajun, so apologies if I chose the wrong appellation. That adaptation follows the generic recipe. We are thinking of trying an oven-baked jambalaya at some point, too, and will definitely post if we do. Prudhomme says to omit the green pepper if you're going to store the rice for any length of time, but we haven't found that it sours as he suggests.

I tried cooking a mix of brown rice and millet this way and it was not pretty. The millet soaked up most of the water, leaving the brown rice slightly crunchy. In future, I'll stick to cooking the grains separately.

GENERIC BAKED BROWN RICE
INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 c. brown rice (long or short grain, jasmine, basmati, etc)
2 1/3 c. water
2 tsp butter or olive oil (optional)
1/2 tsp salt

DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F
  2. Spread the rice the bottom of an 8-inch square pan (one with a lid is ideal, but we just use foil)
  3. Bring the water and butter/oil to a boil in a small saucepan with a lid
  4. As soon as the water comes to a boil, add the salt and pour over the rice in the square pan
  5. Give the rice and water a quick stir and cover with the lid or a double thickness of foil
  6. Put rice in the oven on the middle rack and cook for one hour
  7. Remove rice from the oven and take off the lid or foil. Use a fork to fluff the rice
  8. Cover the rice dish with a clean tea towel and let steam for 5 minutes; remove the tea towel and let sit another 5 minutes before serving
CAJUN ADAPTATION
To the ingredients listed above, add
1 1/2 TBSP very finely chopped onion
1 1/2 TBSP very finely chopped celery
1 1/2 TBSP very finely chopped green bell pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp garlic powder
A pinch each of white pepper, ground black pepper and cayenne pepper

DIRECTIONS
Follow the instructions for the generic baked brown rice.

Tofu with Orange Sauce

I recently discovered the 101 Cookbooks blog by Heidi Swanson, but I can't remember how I came across it. You can take it from me that EATS! will never look like 101 Cookbooks! There is some beautiful food photography on that site, which I'm sure you won't see here. The only recipe I've tried so far is the tofu adaptation of the Orange Pan-Glazed Tempeh recipe, and it was a winner. I'm not a tempeh fan, so quickly opted for tofu. A friend made it with tempeh and had very different (though still delicious) results.

The first time I made the dish, I used tofu that had been frozen. I cut it into cubes rather than the triangles shown in Swanson's photo. Perhaps this was a mistake, as there were many more surfaces to try to brown. I didn't manage to obtain well-browned tofu on all sides, but the end result was delicious. And surprising. I think it was because the tofu was previously frozen (since I couldn't replicate it with fresh tofu), but each bite of tofu actually burst in our mouths with sauce. I've never known that to happen before. It was wonderful. My disappointment was that the tofu had soaked up so much sauce that there was none to spoon over the brown rice and finely-ground steamed greens with which I served it. Of course, I used a lot more tofu than the recipe called for. And, yes, I understand that perhaps this is inevitable with a recipe referring to a Glaze rather than a sauce, but I optimistically call my version a sauce in the hopes that I'll find a way.

The second time I made the dish, I decided to see if I could infuse the tofu with flavor but still have leftover sauce for spooning. I marinated fresh tofu (that I had briefly pressed) and then browned it (in a non-stick skillet using the dry fry technique from the Seasoned Bok Choy and Tofu recipe from November '08). In a separate pan, I reduced the sauce. I must say, this approach was not very successful. The tofu tasted great, don't get me wrong, but it had absorbed far less of the marinade's flavor than in the previous attempt. In addition, the sauce took forever to reduce and had a slightly overcooked flavor. Sigh.

I think that Swanson's method is the one to use and I just have to resign myself to having no sauce for spooning. I'll use the previously-frozen tofu again next time and try making a batch and a half of sauce to see if I can both reduce to a glaze and have a little left over in the pan. If any readers have suggestions on how to have both bursting flavor and spoonable sauce, let me know.

This is a great application for the ginger juice I mentioned in February. The first two times I made this recipe, I followed Swanson's directive and squeezed my own orange juice. In future, I'm not going to bother (it's going to be cooked anyway, after all). Rather, I'll use the flash-pasteurized juice from the supermarket. (I was interested to learn that Cook's Illustrated found that it's also cheaper to use juice; I would have thought it would be cheaper to use whole oranges.)

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 large blocks firm, extra firm, or silken tofu (previously frozen and thawed with the water squeezed out)
1 1/2 c. freshly squeezed orange juice (3-4 large juicy oranges) or high-quality storebought
1 TBSP ginger juice
1 TBSP soy sauce
2 TBSP plus 1 tsp mirin
1 TBSP maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 garlic cloves, crushed

DIRECTIONS
  1. Make sure you've squeezed out the excess water from your previously-frozen tofu. Cut the blocks into squares or triangles (I get 16 per triangles per block, I think and probably 24 squares)
  2. Mix the remaining ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside
  3. Place a single layer of tofu in a nonstick pan with no oil and heat to medium (I had retired mine, but it works well at medium heat in this application). Alternatively, use 2 TBSP oil over medium in a cast-iron or stainless steel pan
  4. Let the tofu cook on one side without moving it around until it develops a nice crust. This will take several minutes
  5. Turn tofu over and repeat. If using squares, there are a lot of sides to cover! I wimped out after four browned sides. Triangles need only to be turned once
  6. Give the sauce a stir and then pour over the tofu
  7. Bring to a boil and then immediately lower heat so that the sauce simmers
  8. Let simmer until the sauce has reduced to form a syrupy glaze/sauce. Swanson says about 10 minutes but I think mine took longer
  9. Remove from heat and serve with grains and greens
At a recent dinner party, I did a build-your-own meal for vegetarians and carnivores. I served oven-baked brown jasmine rice, steamed carrots and broccoli, this tofu recipe and sliced roasted chicken breast, all to be topped with peanut sauce. It worked out very well and I was pleased to taste that the orange glaze and the peanut sauce complemented rather than clashed with each other. Most of us preferred the tofu to the chicken.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Homemade Bagels

Thanks to my friend Melanie (oft-mentioned in this blog) for turning me on to the bagels recipe in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. She mentioned that Elspeth just loved them and I was curious if the effort would be worth it. I can assure you, it is! There is an extra step in bagel-making because you boil the formed bagels in a sugar-soda water before baking. However, it didn't take too long for me to get the hang of forming and boiling the bagels. I wanted to know if you could complete the recipe through boiling and then freeze the bagels (well-wrapped) so that you can bake them individually. I asked on their website and Jeff told me that he thinks it would. (I think it's so cool how responsive the authors are. They have a website http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/ and you can ask them questions. I've done this twice now and heard responses within a day.)

The deliciousness of a bagel fresh out of the oven is hard to match. They taste nothing like a storebought bagel--they have this lovely, crispy crust but still a soft, moist interior. Even reheated the next day, they are still far superior to most supermarket bagels. If you have a toaster oven, Evan hit on the great idea of toasting the bagel on a light/medium setting without slicing it first. This refreshes the crisp crust without compromising the moist interior.

I used our starter again for this, just as I do with the Delicious, Crusty Bread recipe. My starter had just been replenished and hadn't had time to charge up much, so at first I worried that my dough was 'dead'. I left it in the fridge for several days and was pleased to find that time had worked its magic and my bagels had plenty of lift.

I ended up using a hodge-podge of flours here (all purpose, whole wheat bread flour and whole wheat pastry flour) because I was running out of some things. It worked out fine. In future I'll try a mix of all purpose and whole wheat bread flour but I'm not sure what proportions I'll settle on.

An easy way to add flavor to the bagels is to sprinkle them with things like onion powder, garlic powder or even cinnamon sugar after boiling and prior to baking.

INGREDIENTS
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup sourdough starter (the batter-like kind)
2 TBSP kosher or Maldon salt
1 1/2 TBSP sugar
5 3/4 c. (28.75 oz or 1 lb 12.75 oz) flour total--try a mix of whole wheat bread flour and unbleached all purpose flour such as 14 oz. whole wheat flour plus 14.75 oz. all purpose flour

5-8 quarts water
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp baking soda


Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, garlic powder, onion powder, cinnamon sugar or other seeds and spices for toppings

DIRECTIONS
  1. You'll need a clean 6 qt container that is not absolutely airtight. I use a Rubbermaid 'Servin' Saver' 6 qt square container and have been very happy with it
  2. Put the water, starter, salt and sugar in the container and give it a mix
  3. Put the container on your scale and zero it out
  4. Add the whole wheat flour to make the total 14 ounces
  5. Add the unbleached all purpose flour until you have a grand total of 1 lb 12.75 ounces on the scale (or 28.75 oz if your scale works that way)
  6. Use a large wooden spoon to mix the flours into the water. You are not aiming to knead the dough and you should expect a pretty wet dough. After I mix as much as I can with the spoon, I went my hands and mix the dough with them until the flour is incorporated. Again, you're not kneading, you just don't want dry and wet patches
  7. Place the lid on the container loosely and put the dough in the fridge for a day or two. Using the starter makes the rising take longer but the flavor is superb. You can speed things up slightly by leaving the dough out at room temperature for 8 hours.
  8. You know your dough is active when you see air bubbles in it and it has risen
DOUGH PREPARATION
  1. Set out a baking tray lined with Silpat or parchment for your dough lumps
  2. If you're going to bake your bagels right away, preheat your oven to 450 degrees F with a pizza stone set on the middle rack and a broiler tray on the shelf underneath
  3. Remove the dough container from fridge and sprinkle with all-purpose flour
  4. Weigh out as many 3 oz (or smaller) dough lumps for the number of bagels you wish to make. Because I want to try the boil-n-bake-later approach, I'd weigh out all of my dough and would expect about a dozen and a half bagels (always less than the authors say--maybe it's the starter)
  5. Working quickly, shape into a flattened ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you do this (that's nearly verbatim from the book but is still hard to explain until you've done it)
  6. Place on your lined baking tray and cover lightly with plastic wrap and let sit for 20 minutes (I've let them sit for longer with no ill effects). Proceed to the boiling step
BOILING THE BAGELS
  1. Prepare another baking tray lined with a tea towel and sprinkled with flour
  2. If you are going to use the freeze-ahead method, you'll need a baking tray lined with Silpat or parchment
  3. If you are going to bake the bagels right away, you'll need to prepare a peel to get the bagels in the oven by sprinkling it with flour. I highly recommend the Super Peel; I don't think I could use a regular peel successfully. If you don't have a peel, take a baking tray and line it with Silpat or parchment and either put the whole tray in the oven or lift out the lining and put the lining directly on the baking stone
  4. Using a large Dutch oven (ours is 7+ quarts) or a stock pot, bring the water to a boil. The authors suggest 8 quarts, but we don't have a pot that big and it seems extreme. It's true that my bagels do sink to the bottom of the pot and stick for a while until they float, but I'm guessing they'd do that in any size of pot
  5. Once the water has boiled, lower heat to a simmer and add the sugar and baking soda
  6. Now you'll form your bagels. I was surprised at how easy this was--the dough felt wonderfully silky and behaved well. Take each dough lump and use your thumbs to make a hole in the center. Work the dough around the outside so that it's evenly distributed around the hole. The hole needs to be 2-3 times the width of the bagel wall or it'll close up entirely during baking
  7. Drop the bagels gently in the water one at a time trying not to crowd them too much (I can do six at a time in my Dutch oven)
  8. Simmer for two minutes. Most times, the bagels will sink to the bottom and then float up before the two minutes is up. If they haven't, I gently prod them with a slotted spoon and ease them off the bottom of the pot
  9. Flip the bagels over and simmer for an additional minute. Test for doneness by using a slotted spoon to lift the bagel out. Several of mine have been really squashy so I've let them cook a bit longer. The bagels shouldn't be hard or anything, but you'll get the hang of it once you've handled a squashy one
  10. Remove the bagels to the tea towel sprinkled with flour to absorb some of the water
  11. Proceed either to the FREEZE FOR LATER or BAKING DIRECTIONS sections
FREEZE FOR LATER
Bagels are the one bread that should be eaten hot from the oven. The texture is incomparable! Thus, I am going to try boiling all of my bagels and then freezing them to bake at will.
  1. Once your bagels have sat on their tea towel for a moment, line them up on your baking tray with Silpat, parchment or waxed paper. You're going to freeze the bagels on this tray first so that when you bag them, they won't stick together
  2. Put the tray in the freezer (we're lucky to have an outside freezer with lots of room. If you've got a small or full freezer, you'll have to improvise) and freeze until solid
  3. Transfer the bagels to a very thick freezer bag, or you could wrap them in foil and then bag them. They'll be susceptible to picking up odors/flavors from the freezer, so wrapping them well is key
  4. On the day you're ready to bake them or the night before, set the desired number of bagels onto a metal tray (this helps them to thaw faster) and leave until thawed. It may be possible to bake from frozen, but I suspect you'll have a better result if you thaw them fully first
  5. Once the bagels are thawed, proceed to BAKING DIRECTIONS
BAKING DIRECTIONS
  1. Twenty minutes before you want to bake the bagels, preheat the oven to 450 degrees if you haven't already done so. You want the rack in the middle, preferably with a baking stone on it (hence the preheating for so long). A second rack should have a broiler tray or something that can hold water.
  2. Boil 1 cup of water or have really hot water from the tap and have it ready by the oven
  3. Prepare your peel by sprinkling it with flour if you haven't already done so. If you don't have a peel or Super Peel, take a baking tray and line it with Silpat or baking parchment
  4. Place the freshly-boiled or thawed bagels on your prepared surface and sprinkle with the desired toppings
  5. Use peel to transfer the bagels onto the baking stone. Alternatively, put the whole tray in the oven or lift out the lining and put the lining directly on the baking stone
  6. Quickly add the boiling water to the broiler tray and close the oven
  7. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until the bagels are golden
  8. Eat immediately or refresh later in a toaster oven without slicing

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Revamped recipes

Thought I'd mention that over time I've altered a few recipes to make them easier or tastier. In particular, I changed the Oat Blueberry Banana Pancakes recipe and the Energy Treats recipe.