Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Saucy New Year to You!

Image taken from the NYT Blog Diner's Journal, 2/15/08

I have written before that I do not make resolutions at the New Year; instead, inspired by my niece, I set nice, gentle goals for myself.

I have learned to make my goals as broad and as generous as possible, so I will not be too hard on myself when I fail to achieve them (or they change direction, as I like to think of it).

I would like to learn how to be more organized at home so that I can do more of the things I want to be doing rather than avoiding the things that I don't want to be doing (and therefore not doing much of anything at all). Toward that end, I want to be realistic about how many things I can do in a day, and not give myself impossible tasks.

I want to make more of the food that I consume and rely less on processed, prepared foods. My attention was caught by an online article at National Restaurant News that mentioned that five fast food items were included on a list of the "Ten Most Memorable Product Launches of 2009." I find it interesting that five of the ten products were launched by fast food providers. I get a little leery of any food that is considered a "product." I wonder how much real food is involved in their production.

One project about which I am most excited is something I am going to do with a friend of mine. She mentioned to me a few months ago that she had found some recipes for Worcestershire Sauce, mustard, ketchup and some other condiments and she planned to make them. I had just read an article in Saveur magazine about making your own condiments, which had greatly intrigued me, seeing as how I have been delving more and more deeply into making as many things as I can from scratch.

"I'm in," I said. "Do you want to do something together?" She agreed, so we are getting together in a couple of weeks to make a plan. We are going to start with Worcestershire sauce, since that requires a few weeks of fermenting before it is ready.

We have decided not to make mayonnaise a part of the project, mostly because it does not have a long shelf life and you have to be ready to use all of it within a week of making it. I have made it before anyway (for this blog event), so that is fine with me.

If the project goes well, I expect to be exploring more do-it-yourself food preparation. I've been thinking about making my own nut butters, and I am eager to try my hand at pasta.

I already buy little from the processed, pre-packaged aisles at the grocery store. My main goal for the new year is to buy even less. I will post reports as I progress.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cooking on a Budget: Lentil Soup with Spicy Greens

Ok, Christmas and Chanukah are over and the New Year looms ahead. Is anyone out there going to be sorry to see the ass end of an ass year disappear around the bend? Things are looking just a little bit brighter for 2010. Let's hope the trend continues to move in an upward direction, and that before long everyone is working who wants to be, everyone has health care who needs it, and nothing gets in the way of the Season 4 premiere of "Mad Men".

You've been eating leftover turkey and its accoutrements for the past week and you're looking for something different to serve while you watch those Bowl games (didn't think I even knew they played football on New Year's Day, did you?), or something to sop up all of those evil vapours left by the copious amounts of alcohol you consumed the night before. You want to start the New Year with a healthy note, but you still want to feel like you're eating something meaty and satisfying. You want to feed a mess of people, but you don't want to have to go to a lot of trouble.

Look no further, ladies and gentlemen. I've got the perfect New Year's Day dish for you. It's healthy, it's filling, it's meaty (although I suppose I should just say up front that there's no meat whatsoever in it), and - gosh darn it - it tastes good!

What could be better on a cold winter day than a nice warm bowl of soup, chock full of lentils, carrots and celery? Not much, that's for sure, but a healthy dose of spicy mustard greens seals the deal.

It can be a little scary if you haven't done it before, so I will give you a quick look-see at how it's done.

You heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. You add a tablespoon of brown mustard seeds and shake the skillet around to make sure they all get covered in the oil.

When the seeds start to pop (don't worry, you'll know), place a lid over the skillet until the popping noises stop. It doesn't have to be a tight-fitting lid. If your skillet does not have a lid, like mine, just take the biggest lid you have and lay it in the skillet as low as it will go. You just want to keep those little devils from popping out of the skillet and onto your stovetop.

As soon as the popping sound stops, lift off the lid and add the 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. You can increase or decrease the amount of red pepper flakes to suit your taste. Wait about 30 seconds, long enough for the flakes to absorb some oil and start to darken, and then add the mustard greens.
It will seem like there is too much to fit in the skillet, but don't worry about that. Just pile the greens as high as you need to in order to get them all in the skillet. At this point, it's easier to switch to tongs and keep moving the greens from the bottom to the top so each leaf has the same amount of time over the heat.

Eventually, the greens will cook down and they will all fit into the skillet. From here, you just want to cook them a minute or so longer to make sure they are all wilted. They will continue to cook in the soup so you don't have to worry too much about it.

Just add the greens to the pot of soup and you are good to go.

If you insist on having some meat to start off the new year, you can easily brown some cubes of chuck along with the onions and add beef broth instead of water. Or if beef is too much and lentils aren't enough, you could use chicken broth instead of water.

If you wanted to get a little fancier you could use the French petite green lentils, which adds about 85 cents per serving. I like it just a tad better, but it's mighty good with the plain old brown ones. And for the price, there's no better way to start the new year.

Home Cookin Chapter: Soups and Stews

Lentil Soup With Spicy Greens
Serves 6

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 quarts water
2 cups French green lentils, picked over and rinsed
2 large carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt, or more to taste
1 Tbsp brown mustard seeds
1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes
1 lb. mustard greens, swiss chard, or kale, washed and coarsely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and saute, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until onion turns golden brown. Add garlic, cumin, and turmeric and cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes.

Add water, lentils, carrots, celery, bay leaves, thyme, and salt. Bring soup to boil; lower heat to simmer, and cook over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In large skillet or saute pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and cook, stirring, until seeds begin to pop. Cover loosely until the noise from the popping seeds has mostly stopped. Add the red pepper flakes and the greens and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the greens have started to wilt. Stir the greens into the soup and simmer over low heat for 15-20 minutes, until the greens are tender.

Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding additional salt, freshly ground black pepper, and 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice.

adapted from The One-Dish Vegetarian, by Maria Robbins (St. Martin's Griffin, 1998)

Exported from Home Cookin 5.9 (

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Off to Austin

I'm off to Austin for my yearly holiday visit. T-shirt and shorts, here I come! If I can get there.

Unfortunately, I have to get through this first. We're in the middle of a doozy of a winter storm - ice, sleet, rain, wind. I may not get any further than the airport.

I am expecting the worst and hoping for the best. That way, I might hit something in the middle and I may actually get to Austin before the end of the day.

Wherever you are going for the holidays, I hope you arrive safely and have a wonderful time.

In the meantime, let's get a little festive:

Courtesy of OlderMusicGeek on Youtube

Monday, December 21, 2009

Skillet Sausage, Cabbage and Potato

My cooking has reached a point where I am as likely to wander into the kitchen, see what's available, and whip something up on the fly as I am to plan what I am going to make and shop accordingly. This pleases me for several reasons. For one thing, there is a certain freedom in knowing that I have the experience and palate to look at several disparate items and figure out how to put them together into a cohesive, flavorful dish.

For another, it allows me to buy ingredients based on what looks freshest, costs less, and offers me the most inspiration. And when I do buy the ingredients for particular dishes, I can find quick uses for any leftover items.

This Skillet Sausage, Cabbage and Potato is a good example. I had a quarter of a cabbage left from an earlier dish, and I almost always buy more potatoes than I need for any given dish. I almost always buy cabbage for specific uses, and it's not something we ate often in our house when I was a child, so I'm not used to dealing with extra.

But I had the cabbage, and one russet potato, and some vague idea of putting the two together. I realized I could round it out with the Italian Sausage I had in the freezer and some swiss chard left over from one of my more ambitious pizzas.

I didn't write down what I was doing so I can't provide a recipe here, but I can describe the technique that I used, which can easily be translated to just about any ingredients you have handy.

I chopped half an onion, cubed the potato and thinly sliced the cabbage wedge. I heated a little bit of grapeseed oil in the pan and added the sausage and let it render for a minute or so, then I added the onion, potato and cabbage. I let it all cook together until the sausage was browned, seasoning it with a little salt and pepper. When the sausage was browned, I added a 14.5-oz. can of diced tomatoes, thyme and oregano. I brought it to a simmer, lowered the heat, covered it and let it cook for about 15 minute, until the cabbage and potato were tender. I added the Swiss chard and cooked it for another 5 minutes.

With the sausage, this made a satisfying main dish. Without the sausage, it would make just as satisfying a side dish.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Just Don't Call It a Bagel, Please

I had never heard of Bruegger's bagels, but apparently there's one in Oak Park. Their claim to fame? Authentic kettle-boiled bagels fresh from the oven.

My father made bagels when I was very young. All I remember is that I got to roll them into snakes and form them into the doughnut shapes before he dropped them into a pot of boiling water, then baked them. I also remember that they were delicious, and the benchmark against which I measured every other bagel I ever ate.

I also grew up in a time when the only people who knew about bagels were New Yorkers and Jews. My best friend when I was 9 or 10 was at our house in Houston one morning and saw a bagel for the first time. I couldn't believe she didn't know what it was and promptly cut one in half, toasted it, spread a schmear of cream cheese on it,and presented it to her. I was ripe with expectation at her enjoyment of a newly-discovered treat.

She took a bite and made a face. "It's hard," she said, "and not sweet at all." She was expecting a doughnut, both in taste and texture, and was horribly disappointed. I didn't care. I loved my bagels - plain, poppy seed, garlic, onion and my all-time favorite: sesame seed. My idea of heaven is a toasted sesame-seed bagel with cream cheese and lox.

Once bagels became more widespread, it was inevitable that they would morph into more unusual flavors. While I do not, and never will, consider blueberry and cinnamon raisin to be legitimate bagel fare, I can grudgingly accept that others do, and that they happily consume them on a regular basis. It's almost as if, because they look like doughnuts, people keep trying to sweeten them up.

But I cannot wrap my mind around this new product that Bruegger's Bagels is introducing for the holiday season: the cinnamon-roll bagel.
The Cinnamon Roll Bagel is prepared using softer bagel dough combined with brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. After the bagel has been baked, it is drizzled with vanilla icing. -- from
I've become reconciled to the fact that people seem determined to sweeten up a savory roll. But a cinnamon roll bagel? Why? What purpose does it serve? If you want cinnamon roll flavor, why not just eat a cinnamon roll? Why ruin a perfectly good bagel?

I mean really. I don't know what it is, but it certainly isn't a bagel.

Image taken from

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Some Christmas Fun

Not quite feeling that Christmas spirit yet? Check this out. I fed it every Christmas carol I know and it always came up with something. Well, almost always.

It's been around for a while but it's still funny. I especially liked "Jingle Bell Rock," "Lovely Weather for a Sleigh Ride Together with You," and "Carol of the Bells."

Photo from

Monday, December 14, 2009

How to Make Pizza

Once you get the hang of it, pizza is really easy to make. It takes time, especially if you want to cook it the same night you mix up the dough, but if you make it on a regular basis you can make the dough ahead of time and just have it there when you're ready for it. In fact, the longer the dough sits in the refrigerator, the better pizza I think it makes.

And, as with many things, less is usually more. A few simple, basic ingredients makes an outstanding pie.

There are many ways to make a pizza, and as I have been experimenting I don't make it the same way twice (other than the dough, of course). But at the same time I have been experimenting, I have also been developing a basic cheese pizza that is my fall-back for when I don't have a lot of new, exotic ingredients to try, or just don't feel like messing with anything fancy.

It doesn't take a whole can of tomato puree to make one batch of pizzas. I just put the rest in a container and leave it in the refrigerator for the next batch. If too much time passes before I make another pizza, I will use the tomato puree to make pasta sauce or add it to a vegetable sauce. A little bit of tomato is never a bad thing to have hanging around.

If you decide to tackle pizza, I hope you have fun playing around with all the different things you can do with it. But if you're a little nervous about it, and want to start with the basics, here's a nice, standard guide to get you started. You can find the recipe for the dough here. Note the updated amounts on the white whole wheat and the bread flours.
So here's the mise en place for the dough. As you can see, there's not a lot there. The bowl on the left has the water; the bowl on the right has white whole wheat flour, bread flour (this is Bob's Red Mill Brand; I just bought a bag of King Arthur's to compare), salt and sugar. Whisk all of those dry ingredients together before you get started.

Waiting in the wings are the active dry yeast and olive oil.

Warm the water (I zap it in the microwave for 1 minute) to between 105-115 deg. F.

Add the yeast to the warm water and whisk them together vigorously. In the olden days, you would combine the yeast, sugar and water in a little bowl to proof the yeast to make sure it is still alive, but if you are sure your yeast is fresh, these days it is not necessary to proof it. As you're whisking in the yeast, you should notice bubbles forming (click on the photo to see what I mean). That should be proof enough.

Once the yeast has mixed thoroughly with the water, you can add the olive oil. That's 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

I just dump them right into the bowl. It kind of sits there on top, since oil is lighter than water, but that's ok. It will blend in when you add the dry ingredients.

Which you should do next. Normally, you should add the dry ingredients in smaller increments because you never know for sure how much you're going to need. Depending on how humid it is or how you've measured out your flour, sometimes you need more or less.

That is why some people say you should always weigh your dry ingredients rather than measure them. I grew up measuring, so I'll most likely continue to do it that way. Whatever floats your boat.

But for pizza dough, I just dump all of the dry ingredients in at once. So far it hasn't been a problem. At this point I switch to a wooden spoon and stir until a soft dough forms. Sometimes it forms faster than others, and sometimes it forms more easily than at other times. For those times when the dough just isn't coming together, I will get rid of the spoon and start kneading it together in the bowl with my hands. It doesn't really matter how you make it happen; at this point you can't overwork the dough.

Next, turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface, and then sprinkle flour over the dough as well. That should be just about all of the extra flour you will need. You want the dough to be a little moist, but not so moist that it sticks to your hands.

Start kneading the dough. You knead by taking the end of the dough furthest away from you and folding it over towards you, then with the ball of your hand(s) you push it into the dough. Then you turn the dough one quarter and repeat. You want to knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.

Through practice, I have established that my dough gets nice and smooth and elastic after about 300 kneading strokes, so I just count them out. I don't know how long it takes, but it isn't really long at all.

Before you know it you have a nice, smooth ball of pizza dough. Notice that virtually all of the flour that I had scattered on the counter has been absorbed into the dough.

If you want to make your pizza right away, you would cover the dough in the bowl in which you mixed up the dough and let it rise to double its height (about an hour), and then you can pick up down below where you shape the dough into the pizza pan. I think the dough is much better if you make it ahead of time and let it rise in the refrigerator overnight, or for a couple of days. Some say the flavor has time to develop more fully over time. I agree. So I cut my ball of dough into two smaller balls and dust them with flour.

I put each ball in a storage bag, and then tie the bag closed. The instructions I have seen say to wrap the balls tightly and then seal them. I tried that once and I thought the dough was going to burst out of the bag. Instead, I squeeze the air out of the bags, but leave room in them for the dough to expand. That seems to do the trick.

I put them in the bottom shelf of the refrigerator and forget them until I am ready to make my pizza - at least 8 hours, as long as 3 days.

When I am ready to make pizza, I take the dough out of the refrigerator. I set my timer for an hour and leave the dough to come to room temperature while I go take care of other things.

You can see how much the dough has risen, even in the refrigerator. Realizing that you can let dough rise in the refrigerator has liberated me with my breadmaking and other yeast-related goodies. If I don't have time to complete the full process at one time, I can just put it in the refrigerator until I am ready to pick it up again. Within reason, of course.

After the 1-hour timer goes off, I reset it for half an hour. At this time I turn on the oven and set it at 450-475 deg. F so it can start preheating.

Also at this time, I grate the cheese (if I don't already have some grated cheese on hand) and get all of my other ingredients together. Here are the ingredients that are going into this baby: Tomato puree, salt (oops, not pictured), dried Italian spice mix (I make it myself - 2 parts oregano to 1 part basil and 1 part thyme), grated mozzarella cheese, sliced zucchini, chopped olives, fresh basil (lucky me - I had some on hand!), and grated parmesan cheese. Usually, the 30-minute timer goes off just about the time I've assembled all the ingredients and have them ready.

I sprinkle a little cornmeal over my baking dish to keep the pizza from sticking. I've learned not to use too much, or my pizza can taste a little too grainy. A little grainy is good - it reminds me of the pizza they serve at the pizza place, but you don't want too much.

Getting the dough out of the plastic bag can be a little tricky, because the flour in which they were dusted has become absorbed by the rising, and the dough is pretty sticky by now. Here is what I have found to be the best way to get the dough out of the bag with the least amount of hassle. (Although it isn't rocket science; you could probably just turn it out and dump it onto the counter. I just like to go from bag to hand to baking sheet, if I can.)

I start by sprinkling a little bit of flour into the bag and then putting my hand into the bag, turning the floured side over so the bottom of the bag is on top. I carefully peel away the bag, and then sprinkle a little bit of flour on the newly-exposed side of the dough. Then I grab it in the middle and start turning it around, letting the dough lengthen and fall a little more with each turn.

I have not come anywhere close to mastering the technique that will let me shape my pizza that way, though, so after it has formed a round, flat shape, I put it into the baking sheet and stretch it out from there.

One trick I have learned is to take the dough from the middle and stretch it out to the edge. If you just start pulling the edges it stretches out the middle too fast and it will start to tear before you can get the dough out to the edges of the baking sheet. Start in the middle, and the dough stays thicker all the way through, and you can still get that pizza crust thing going on the edges.

Sometimes the dough will fight me a little. As you can see here, it isn't staying all the way out to the lip of the sheet. When that happens, I just cover it with a towel and walk away from it for 5 minutes. By the time I get back it has relaxed enough that I can stretch it out that last little bit so it comes out to the edges of the sheet.

I like to pre-cook my crust, so I put it on the bottom rack of the oven and cook it for 4 minutes. I got this tip watching Sarah Moulton make pizza on her PBS show "Weeknight Meals." Since I don't use a stone and I don't know that my oven gets really hot enough for professional quality pizza, I find that cooking it before I top it keeps it crisp while everything else is cooking.

You may find that this step is not necessary, in which case, you can just skip it and start topping your pizza.

The first thing I put on my pizza is the tomato puree. I use it straight out of the can. Some people like to make fancy sauces, and sometimes I will do that, but the tomato will cook in the oven and this is really fast and easy. Just be sure to season your puree! The first time I used it I forgot and it wasn't quite so spectacular.

You want a light hand with the sauce. If there's too much sauce, your crust will be soggy and won't support the ingredients. I usually use a ladle to spoon it over and smooth it out; 2 ladles full is usually enough ( 3/4 to 1 cup).

I season my tomato with salt and the Italian spice mix. I use both items generously and I make sure every bit of the sauce is well seasoned so there is flavor in every bite.

Next, I cover the tomato puree with the grated mozzarella cheese. I start from the outside and work my way in so the cheese covers all of the tomato sauce. For some reason, I don't know why, if I start in the middle and work my way out I don't go all the way to the edge of the tomato sauce. And you want to make sure that the cheese covers all of the sauce so it will cook together into a delicious gooey pizza edge.

After the cheese come whatever ingredients I have decided to use. In this case, I had some zucchini and green olives in the refrigerator, so I sliced up the zucchini and chopped the olives. I just layer the slices evenly around the dough, and then I spread the olives evenly after that. I don't always have fresh herbs on hand, but having basil meant I could also chiffonade some basil leaves and spread those on top of the zucchini and olives.

Last of all comes the grated parmesan cheese, so it will bubble and brown and give my pizza a nice, cheesy top.

I bake it on the bottom shelf of the oven for about 15 minutes, until the crust is a deep golden brown, the pizza ingredients are done, and the cheeses have melted and are bubbling.

Remove the pizza from the oven and slide it off of the baking dish. Cut immediately and serve hot.

To reheat, I have found that what works best for me is to preheat the oven to 350 deg F. and heat the slices on a baking sheet for about 10 minutes. I used to reheat pizza in the microwave, but it really makes a difference if you heat it in the oven instead.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Six Weirdest, Scariest Processed Foods

There are a lot more than six, but this is a start.

I especially like the mental image produced from the idea of people stuffing handsful of Crisco into their mouths.

My mother used to break Oreos in half, eat the chocolate side, and give me the side with the filling, which I didn't particularly like, but it was the only way I could get the other chocolate half. Thanks, Mom.

Edited to add: It looks like Oreos no longer has trans fats in their Oreos. Looking at their list of ingredients, however, I still don't think I want to eat them.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Baking Class: Applesauce Spice Cupcake Pudding with Caramel Sauce

Let me just say that it was not my intention to make Applesauce Spice Cupcake Pudding when I started putting together the butter, flour, applesauce, and spices. I had a recipe that came from my sister-in-law for an Applesauce Spice Cake that I was trying to adapt into cupcakes.

I learned something new right off the bat. Not all cake batters translate to cupcakes without some kind of adaptation. Rather than rise up into a nice rounded top, the batter spread out over the surface of the cupcake sheets and stuck there, making it impossible to remove the cupcakes from the sheets without the tops pulling off of them. The cupcakes were of a moistness that would have made for a rich, marvelous cake, but it was a sticky moistness that made getting them out of the paper problematic once I did manage to get them out of the baking sheet.

In other words, one big fat mess of a failure. I knew I could not cover them with the cream cheese frosting that is supposed to accompany them. I also knew that I could not share them with anyone in their current state.

But I had two dozen of them and I couldn't just throw them away. Other than their appearance, there was nothing wrong with them. I put on my thinking cap. I was determined to make some kind of lemonade with those lemons.

Maybe it's the time of year, but it was just a tiny little stretch to come up with bread pudding. I had seen Ina Garten make one with croissants, so I knew you didn't have to use bread. You just needed something bread-like. These were perfect. They were already broken up, it shouldn't take too much effort to break them up even more. All I needed was a little something to bind the broken pieces into a whole.

I looked through some of my old standby cookbooks and found a basic bread pudding in The Settlement Cookbook that was about as simple as could be. Milk, eggs, sugar and spices mixed together, poured over the broken up cupcake pieces, left to soak for a while, then baked for about an hour. It seemed simple enough.

It was simple, and delicious. I used the same spices for the pudding as I had used for the cake, and it was nice and warm and spicy. But it needed a sauce, something to contrast a little with the soft texture and spicy taste. As soon as I thought of caramel sauce I knew it would be perfect.

I'd never made caramel sauce before, so I went looking for recipes. I found the perfect recipe here on Elise's Simply Recipes. It came together quickly and was warm and buttery and sweet and rich and - for lack of a better word - caramel-y. In a word, yum. In two words, yum yum.

It was the perfect accompaniment for the spice cake pudding. It's buttery warmth wrapped around the spices in a velvet coat of sweet, rich flavor.

I'm not going to post the Applesauce Spice Cake recipe here - when made properly it should be served with the cream cheese frosting that usually goes with it and it will be delicious in its own right. What I am posting here is a recipe for turning any cake/cookie/baked good disaster into a triumph. Served with this luscious, gooey caramel sauce, you can even use regular old stale bread, which was the reason bread pudding was created in the first place, to find a use for that old, stale bread that had hung around the kitchen for a day or two too many.

12 cupcakes, 4 cups cried bread or cake cubes, or any other baked good that has outstayed its welcome
1-1/2 cups milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, or any other spices that you want to use; you can mix and match spices and amounts, but no more than 3 teaspoons of spices in all.

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F.

Place bread/cake cubes into a greased 1-1/2 quart baking dish. Beat together the milk, eggs, sugar and spices. Pour over the bread/cake cubes and let stand until the liquid has been thoroughly absorbed.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until firm. Let cool before serving.

Serve with your favorite sauce.

Loosely adapted from The Settlement Cookbook, Third Edition, Newly Revised (Simon and Schuster 1965, 1976)

Monday, December 07, 2009

Roast Chicken with Lemon, Garlic, and Fresh Herbs

It's been a long weekend and I'm beat, so this post will be short and sweet. And roasty toasty delicious.

Last week I saw the roasting chickens at Whole Foods and decided to give one a try. I picked a nice, beautiful 4-pound baby. I thought about asking the butcher to cut it up for me, but I had a ride that I didn't want to keep waiting too long and decided I would have more options if I kept it whole.

My last serious attempt at roasting a chicken, while not exactly disastrous, was less than satisfactory. Considering how much lemon, thyme, paprika, and other spices went into it, the bird was bland. I don't think the problem was necessarily with the recipe; at the time I chalked it down to my lack of experience with the roasting technique.

I thought it was time to try again. I went online to see if I could find something that seemed reasonable. I finally ended up at this recipe at The Food Network website by Emeril Lagasse, of all people.

What I found particularly amusing about this recipe is that, while the ingredients and the basic instructions seem like they would work, the instructions are to roast the chicken in a 500 deg. F oven for 40-50 minutes. That just looked wrong, so I decided to check the reviews and see what people had to say about it.

The overwhelming majority of reviewers gave the recipe 5 stars, but they all also said they either burned the chicken the first time they made it, and then cooked it at a lower temperature with excellent results, or they had read previous reviews and knew to cook it at a lower temperature. The highlight was when one reviewer criticized the other reviewers for giving the recipe such a high rating when it had such a serious mistake in it. Because it is clearly a mistake, of which the site is unaware, or about which the site does not care.

The recipe itself is similar to many other roast chicken recipes out there (except for the cooking at 500 deg. part). Since so many recipes had the same basic instructions, I decided to take what made sense and run with it. I basically just threw every fresh herb I had in the refrigerator into the cavity and stopped it up with a lemon half (which you can see bulging obscenely out from under the breast in the picture above.)

I was quite pleased with the result. As you can see, the garlic burned to a crisp, but the skin was crisp and full of flavor, as was the meat itself. I ate the dark meat for a couple of dinners and I chopped and froze the chicken breast for some soup I wanted to make. The bones are in a resealable bag in the freezer, where it is their destiny to become a lovely golden slow cooker chicken stock.

I stuffed every fresh herb from my refrigerator into this bird, including a big old bunch of cilantro. I also used the Bell's Natural Seasoning in the rub. All in all, it was one of the best chickens I have ever eaten, and it was definitely the best chicken I have ever roasted.

1 3-4 lb. chicken
salt and pepper
4 Tbsp butter, more or less, softened
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp Bell's Natural Seasoning, or poultry seasoning
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon, cut in half
6-10 sprigs fresh thyme*
6-8 fresh sage leaves*
large handful of roughly-chopped cilantro*
4 bay leaves

Preheat oven to 425 deg. F.

In a small bowl, combine the butter, olive oil, Bell's Natural seasoning, and garlic and mix well. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the bowl and mix it in.

Season the chicken liberally with salt and pepper on all sides, and place on a rack in a roasting pan. Place one of the squeezed lemon halves inside of the cavity, and then add the thyme, sage, cilantro and bay leaves, followed by the second squeezed lemon half.

Rub the butter-oil-garlic mixture all over the outside of the chicken and in between the meat and the skin.

Place on a rack in the middle of the oven. Bake for approximately one-and-a-half hours, until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the leg is 160 degrees. Check after an hour, and if the skin starts turning too brown, place a piece of aluminum foil loosely over the breast.

Remove from the oven and let the chicken rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Baking Class: Jack Robinson Cake

Jack Robinson cake has been in our family for as long as I can remember. My mother made it maybe once or twice during my childhood. It's not chocolate, so it was not high on her list of dessert priorities.

I like chocolate as much as the next person, but it is not the only thing I like. Oddly enough, I'm not that crazy about most chocolate cakes, or chocolate ice cream. There's something about those vehicles that dilutes the effect of the chocolate for me. A good vanilla ice cream is dense, thick and rich to me. With chocolate ice cream, the cream and the chocolate balance out too well. It's the same thing with cake. The other ingredients balance out the chocolate, so it is not rich enough by itself and the other flavors don't have a chance to compete. There is one exception, I do have a killer chocolate cake recipe that has also been in the family for as long as I can remember. It's a secret for now and it's not my recipe, so I can't share it.

I do not know from where my mother got the recipe for Jack Robinson Cake. I do have a vague memory of it being called that because you can make it faster than you can say "Jack Robinson." I did not find much when I went looking on the internet, but one other person who posted the recipe said it was named for this reason, so I did not totally pull that out of thin air. I will say that it is not that fast a recipe to put together, and I could definitely not make it faster than anyone can say "Jack Robinson."

Another person who posted the recipe said it was given to her when she got married in the mid '50s, so the recipe is as old as I remember it being. It's posted on, and I even found someone who posted in French. But none of the postings have attributes, so I didn't uncover any other hints as to its origin.

Wherever it came from, it's delicious. It's basically a white cake that's covered with a brown-sugar meringue and baked for about half an hour. The meringue forms a sweet, nutty, slightly chewy crust on top of the cake. The brown sugar gives the meringue a toasty, caramelly warmth. It's a little on the light side, which makes it the perfect ending to a rich, heavy meal. I made it for my Thanksgiving dinner, and it hit the perfect end note.

You might not be able to whip it up faster than anyone can say "Jack Robinson," but don't let that stop you from trying. While it's not fast, it is easy, and it's a crowd pleaser.
Home Cookin Chapter: Cakes and Pies


2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1-1/4 cups sugar
1/2 butter, room temperature
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs

Sift flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add butter, milk and vanilla. Beat on low for 2 minutes. Add the eggs and beat for one more minute. Pour into 8-1/2 x 13-1/2 x 2" pan.


2 egg whites, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Add brown sugar gradually and beat well. Spread mixture on top of the cake batter, then sprinkle with the chopped walnuts.

Bake at 350 deg. F for 35 minutes.

Exported from Home Cookin 5.9 (

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Slightly Less Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner

I usually go home for Thanksgiving, but this year has been a little bit of a challenge, what with the economy and all, so I stayed home. I could have found somewhere to go, but I found myself looking forward to a nice long four-day weekend all to myself. When I first moved to Chicago, after the first year I stopped going home. Every other year, my brother would come up with his family and we would make a mass migration down to the Melrose for their turkey dinner, but as the kids got older and space became more of a challenge that stopped. And then about six years or so ago I started going down there for Thanksgiving and Christmas. But this year it just didn't work out. I'm sure you understand.

I'm not a huge fan of turkey, although I do like the sides. But I am definitely not one of those for whom it's just not Thanksgiving if there isn't a turkey. I thought I would take advantage of having the day to myself by coming up with a Thanksgiving-themed meal that wasn't the traditional fare.

I also wanted to utilize as many ingredients as I already had at hand, so I wouldn't have to make a big trip to the store during what is arguably the busiest week of the year at the grocery store. I did end up at the giant Whole Foods in Lincoln Park the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and it was a zoo. It's the third largest Whole Foods in the world, but it seemed much bigger to me than the larger one in Austin. (Oddly, though, the largest one is in London. Go figure.)

I was actually there meeting some knitting friends in the cafe, but I was getting a ride home so I took advantage of the opportunity to do a little shopping. It was crazy, and obscenely excessive, and somehow seems totally incongruous with the Whole Foods I remember from the early '80s, and with their local, sustainable message, but I have to admit if you can blind yourself to all the hoopla, their organic produce was quite good, and not too expensive. I got some lovely carrots, some beautiful red and green Swiss Chard, and a flat parsley a vibrant, healthy green the likes of which I had not yet seen this season. I am already looking forward to picking up some more items when we meet again next Tuesday.

My friend and knitting student just got accepted into Tulane University in New Orleans, so we won't be seeing her for a little while, which makes me sad even though I am quite happy for her and a little envious of her morning coffee and beignets at the Cafe du Monde, and those lazy strolls through the French Quarter.

Because she was leaving Thanksgiving Day, she gave me a lovely bag of gifts a little early this year. She told me not to open until it was a little closer to Christmas, except that I should poke around for a little box because that could actually be used for Thanksgiving (I haven't opened anything else yet, I promise!). So I poked around, found the little box, and unwrapped it.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I saw that it was a package of Bell's All-Natural Seasoning. Apparently, Martha Stewart has been using it for years,and it is the secret ingredient in her stuffing. Not being a huge fan of Ms. Stewart, I was unaware of this product until, coincidentally enough, it was mentioned in a thread on the cooking newsgroup in which I have lurked for years just a few weeks earlier.

I am not much of a spice blend cook; I usually like to mix my own masalas and combine my own herbs and spices from what I have on hand. I think that is as much because I did not grow up with them, and I like the idea of the variety that combining spices as I use them gives me. But the minute I opened up the box and took a whiff I fell in love with it. It's got the usual suspects of a poultry seasoning - sage, thyme, oregano and marjoram, but it also has rosemary and ginger, which gives it an extra fresh sharpness of flavor. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to cook on Thursday, and I knew I would find a way to incorporate the seasoning into my meal.

I had planned to make some kind of stuffing with greens and sausage for my main course, but I also wanted to make empanadas. That started to seem like too much starch, so I decided to stick with the empanadas and just make greens as a side dish. I knew I wanted sweet potatoes (sweet potatoes are what defines Thanksgiving to me - it just isn't Thanksgiving without them), which is how I came up with my Cranberry Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup. After I made the cranberry sauce for the garnish for that soup I realized that, after years of doctoring it up with orange juice, walnuts, apples and ginger, I really like it best when it is made without all of the bells and whistles, so I decided to use the rest of the bag of cranberries to make more sauce. I thought it would go well with the empanadas.

I thought about making a pie for dessert, but I already had piecrust with the empanadas, so I thought maybe a Jack Robinson cake would fit the theme. It's a yellow cake (that's actually more white than yellow, even though there are two whole eggs in it) with a brown sugar meringue baked on top of it. It's a recipe that has been around in our family since before I can remember, but I have only made it once or twice. I don't know how I thought of it, but once I did I know it was the perfect dessert. An extra bonus is that it is easier to take cake to friends than pieces of pie, and I knew I was going into the knit shop on Friday so I would not have to eat the whole thing by myself.

The only wrinkle I ran into with my meal was that I thought I had some ground turkey in the freezer from my last batch of empanadas, but I was mistaken. The last time I made empanadas, I used ground pork and that is what I had. But I decided not to let it get me down. I used the same seasoning I would have used for turkey, and while it definitely was not turkey, it was close enough.

This is what I ended up with for my Thanksgiving day feast:
Cranberry Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup
Pork, leek and potato empanadas
Home-made cranberry sauce
Red and Green Swiss Chard with bacon and whole-grain mustard
Jack Robinson Cake

It was pretty near perfect. I thought the gremolata would complement the empanadas, but it actually overpowered them. I decided to put them to a different use and ate the empanadas with the cranberry sauce instead. It was much better.

This was a very satisfying meal, without being excessive, which is not really fun when you are eating by yourself. I made the soup and the cake on Wednesday, and everything else was pretty straightforward on Thursday, and sat down to my feast at around three o'clock in the afternoon, after spending a couple of hours on the phone with my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephews.

The empanadas and the cake are for future posts, but I was so pleased with how the chard turned out that I thought I would share that recipe here. It's fast and simple, and goes well with anything. You can't go wrong with greens and bacon.

1/4 lb. (3-4 slices, depending on thickness) of good quality smoked bacon (applewood or maple are both good), diced
1 tsp whole-grain dijon mustard
2 bunches (1 red, 1 green) Swiss Chard, leaves removed from the stems and torn into large pieces, rinsed and drained.

Put bacon in cold skillet and render out the fat over medium heat. Once the bacon is browned and crisp, remove it from the skillet and put it on a paper-towel covered plate to soak up the grease.

Pour out all but a tablespoon of the bacon grease and put the skillet back over medium heat. When it is hot, add the whole grain mustard, and break it down. As soon as the seeds start to pop, add the swiss chard. Season with pepper (and more salt if necessary but be careful - there's a lot of salt in the bacon) to taste. Cook, stirring frequently with tongs to make sure the greens are evenly exposed to the hot skillet, until the greens have wilted to the desired consistency and are still a vibrant green. Do not overcook the greens, for this dish they should still have some bite to them. If necessary, add a little water to keep them from getting too dry.

Add the bacon back to the skillet and leave over the heat just long enough to mix it in. Serve immediately.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cranberry Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate it. Happy Thursday to everyone else.

After my success in creating last year's Raspberry Chipotle Sweet Potatoes, I thought it might be a fun challenge to come up with a completely new and different sweet potato dish this year. Given how much I've been enjoying the roasted butternut squash soup this season, roasted sweet potato soup seemed like the logical choice.

I was going to keep the same ingredients as last year and make a raspberry chipotle sweet potato soup, but seeing as how it's Thanksgiving, I thought it might be interesting to use cranberries instead of raspberries. It turned out to be a good match. The natural tartness of the cranberries added a fresh zing to the velvety smooth sweet potato. The chipotle added just the right amount of smoky spice. I was careful not to add too much so it would not be too spicy. I think I succeeded. The heat builds slowly and leaves a warm tingle by the time the spoon has scooped up the last little drop.

This recipe uses the same basic techniques as the Roasted Butternut Squash and Shallot Soup I adapted from a Cooking Light recipe. The more I cook, the more I realize how many dishes are built from the same foundations. In this case, you take some vegetables, roast them up, add some liquid and puree them, and you have an almost infinite array of possibilities.

But for Thanksgiving, sweet potatoes and cranberries are definitely the way to go.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Makes 6-8 Servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 shallots, peeled and sliced lengthwise in half
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
10-12 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves stripped and chopped, stems discarded
salt and pepper
3 cups vegetable broth
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp sweet sherry or marsala wine

1 cup fresh cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

heavy cream for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 deg. F.

Place the cubed sweet potatoes, halved shallots and garlic cloves in a roasting pan and toss with the olive oil. Add the thyme; season to taste with salt and pepper and toss again.

Roast in the 375-degree oven for about 45 minutes, or until tender. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

While the vegetables are roasting, place the cranberries in a small saucepan with the water and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and let boil until the berries burst, about 5 minutes. Watch this constantly; it can boil over pretty quickly.

Let the cranberry mixture cool completely. Use a stick blender to make a puree, adding water if necessary to give it the consistency of a thick syrup.

Put the roasted vegetables into a large soup pot and add the vegetable broth and the chipotle pepper. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer over medium low heat. As soon as it has started to simmer, remove from the heat and, using a stick blender, blend until smooth. Return the pan to the stove and bring back to a simmer.

Add the milk and 1/2 a cup of the cranberry puree, and stir well. Add more water or milk as necessary to reach desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add sherry and mix well.

Remove from heat. Serve immediately, garnished with a tablespoon of cream topped with a tablespoon of the cranberry syrup.

loosely adapted from
Cooking Light Magazine, November 2008

Exported from Home Cookin 5.9 (

Monday, November 23, 2009

Squash and Picadillo Enchilada Casserole

I had a half-batch of picadillo left over from my first empanada attempt (more on that later), and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it. In the past, we would scoop it up with flour tortillas, but I got out of the flour tortilla habit after I moved to Chicago and could not find a whole wheat flour tortilla to save my life. By the time they did appear, there was only one brand available and I could taste whatever additives they used to preserve them. I could have used corn tortillas, and that is what I decided to do.

And somewhere within that decision, after I had brought the corn tortillas home with me, came the idea of making enchiladas. I thought it would work out really well to wrap the picadillo and some cheddar cheese in the tortillas and top it all with a lovely tomato enchilada sauce. I already had some sharp cheddar in the refrigerator so I decided to go with that.

With many enchilada recipes, you fry the tortillas in oil to make them pliable. I never liked to deal with the mess of that, and I also wanted a healthier alternative. I found a recipe (I believe on the back of some taco seasoning a housemate had bought years ago) that called for dipping the tortillas in the enchilada sauce to soften them up and I liked that idea much better. I have been doing it that way ever since. That may be more of a Tex-Mex way to make them, I don't know. I just know I like them that way.

But as I was working out the recipe in my mind, I realized that the tomato sauce needed something more. Something meaty. Something like . . . picadillo. That would work, but then what would I put inside the enchiladas? I didn't have many options in the refrigerator or the pantry, so I thought maybe I could just fill them with onions and cheese and top them with the picadillo-tomato sauce. There's something to be said about a cheese-onion enchilada.

But then I thought about the delicata squash I had bought a few days earlier. I had no specific plans for that, and I started to wonder how it would go with the other ingredients. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. So I cut it in half lengthwise, scooped out the pulp and seeds, and roasted it in the oven for about 20 minutes. I didn't want it to get too tender because it was going to bake again with the enchiladas.

It came out better even than I had anticipated. The smooth sweetness of the squash was balanced by the gooey sharp cheese, and the piquant picadillo sauce brought the whole thing together.

It takes a little time and effort to make the actual enchiladas, but it's easy and it moves quickly and they're done before you know it. And the end result is a hearty, satisfying meal. I hadn't made enchiladas in a long time, but now that I have started again I do not intend to stop.

This is another one of those dishes where, once you figure out the basics, there is no end to the possibilities. You can change the sauce, the fillings, even the wraps to match your mood, or what you have on hand.

As comfort food on a cold windy day, there's nothing better.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 4-6 servings.

2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 med onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 lb. ground beef, pork or turkey
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried chilies
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup roughly chopped green olives
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup slivered almonds

Green onions and cilantro for garnish

Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion, season with salt, and cook for 2 minutes. Add garlic, green pepper and celery and cook another 3 minutes, until the onions are translucent.

Add the tomato paste and, stirring to mix it into the vegetables, cook for a few minutes until the color has deepened. Add cumin and stir for 1 minute.

Add ground beef, oregano and dried peppers. Season with more salt and brown thoroughly, breaking it up so there are no clumps and it is thoroughly mixed into the vegetable mixture. If the mixture becomes too dry, add water in small amounts at a time.

Add olives and raisins and cook until heated through and the raisins have plumped some. Add almonds and cook another minute. Serve hot.

Garnish with chopped green onions and cilantro.


Makes 4-6 servings

small amount of oil
1 Delicata or other winter squash
4 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
1 28-oz. can tomato puree (or tomato sauce)
1/2 cup water
1 tsp oregano
salt and pepper
12-12 corn tortillas
1 tsp cumin
1 cup picadillo

Preheat oven to 375 deg. F and grease a 9 x 12-inch baking dish. Slice squash in half and remove seeds. Brush with oil and place, cut side down, on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until just tender. Let cool, remove the skin and cut it into 1/2-inch slices. (This can be done ahead.)

Pour pureed tomatoes into a 3-quart saucepan over low heat. Add oregano and water and bring to a simmer over low heat.

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Remove sauce from heat and place on a heating pad on the counter, with the baking dish nearby. Using a plate or cutting board as a work space, grab a tortilla with tongs and dip it into the hot tomato sauce, making sure it is completely covered. Leave it in for just a few seconds, shake off the excess sauce, and lay it on the plate.

Spread a small handful of cheese down the middle of the tortilla. Layer some squash on top of it. Take one end of the tortilla and roll it lengthwise around the squash and cheese mixture. Place seam side down in the baking dish.

Continue making the tortillas, placing them in one layer in the dish. When all of the enchiladas have been prepared, return the pan with the remainder of the sauce to the burner and add the picadillo. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, until the flavors have blended. If the sauce becomes too thick, thin it with a little water. Pour the sauce over the enchiladas in the baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and top with the remaining cheese. Bake another 20 minutes, until the cheese has browned and melted.

Serve hot.

Exported from Home Cookin 5.9 (

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Baking Class: Graham Crackers

So how did I end up making graham crackers from scratch? Funny you should ask. I have always been fascinated by them. They were one of the few cookie-type products that we had in our house pretty much all the time. For a quick dessert or if we were out of cereal, my mother would put some in a bowl and cover it with milk. The trick was to eat it as quickly as possible before the graham crackers became a wet soggy mess. I was fascinated by this process because, until you put your spoon under it and tried to pick it up, you never knew for sure whether it would stay intact or not. And you wonder where I got my taste for soggy, mushy food.

Graham crackers were developed in the early 19th century by Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian minister who promoted vegetarianism (among other things) and decried the practice of adding chemicals to bread. Like the Kelloggs, Graham believed that people should only eat bland foods, and stay away from unhealthy urges.
The graham cracker was developed to offer a somewhat sweet, but still healthy, treat to help people suppress those unhealthy appetites.

Ironically enough, most commercial graham crackers today are made from the very refined white flour against which he campaigned, and have all kinds of chemical additives. I only buy them when I want to make graham cracker brownies these days, and I buy Annie's Honey Bunny Grahams, which are still made with whole wheat and fewer additives (can't say none because I don't know what those "natural flavors" are on the ingredient list). They work just fine for the brownies.

I hadn't made whole wheat bread in a while, and I decided to make some not long ago, but I didn't have enough whole wheat flour. So I put it on my shopping list. At the store, I was looking at three brands - King Arthur, Bob's Red Mill, and Hodgeson Mill. I had used both King Arthur and Bob's Red Mill, so I thought I would try Hodgeson Mill. I put it in the cart and brought it home with me.

Imagine my surprise when I got the bag home and noticed a section on the back of the bag titled "History of Graham Flour." Huh? I didn't buy the wrong thing, did I? I looked at the front of the bag - "100% Whole Wheat Flour." No mention of graham at all, until I looked more closely, where it said at the bottom: "Graham Flour Story on Back."

Long story short? Graham flour is whole wheat flour. The only thing that differentiates this bag of flour from what I usually buy is that this flour is much more coarse than the others. The minute I opened it up and started working on the bread I knew it would affect the final product. It was thicker, and heavier. It did not knead as smoothly. It did not rise as high. But it did knead, and it did rise. As I was working with it, I told myself if the bread did not turn out as well as it usually did, then I would just make some graham crackers with it, since I wouldn't be using it for anything else.

And that's how I ended up making graham crackers. I found a recipe at that was reprinted from Retro Desserts: Totally Hip, Updated Classic Desserts from the '40S, '50S, 60s and '70s by Wayne Harley Brachman (William Morrow, 2000). I tweaked it a bit, and by the third attempt (thus validating my Law of Three theory), found the perfect blend of ingredients and technique.

They may not look symmetric or even-edged, but I can tell you they are spectacularly delicious. And not just "Wow these are pretty good for a healthy treat" delicious. They are light and crunchy and almost melt in your mouth (yes, even with all that coarse whole wheat). There is a complexity to the sweetness, thanks to the three different sweeteners used, but the sweetness is not at all overpowering.

Everyone who has tried them has raved about them. They are so much better than anything you can buy at the store, and even rival other, more traditional cookies. Well, maybe not toll house cookies but let's be realistic here.

These are so good that I want to use them for my graham cracker brownies but I don't want to waste them. What does that tell you?

I won't lie, they are a bit of a bother to roll out and get on to the baking sheets. But they are well worth the effort. You can even make them in two stages - make the dough, roll it out to the first thickness, and then leave it in the fridge for anywhere from an hour to 24. You could probably even freeze the dough. You could definitely freeze the cookies.

I'm telling you, if you want to impress your friends, get some old fashioned 100% whole wheat flour and whip up a batch.

The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of rye flour. Since I don't use that, I didn't want to buy it just for this purpose, so I just upped the amount of the whole wheat flour. At some point I will probably try it with the rye flour, though, because that just seems to be where I'm heading.

You may also be tempted to omit the cinnamon; I did with the first batch I made. It was definitely better with it. You can't really taste the cinnamon, but it acts as a flavor enhancer that adds to the sweetness, somehow. I would definitely leave it in.
Home Cookin Chapter: Cookies

Makes 48 cookies

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups coarsely-ground whole-wheat flour (sometimes called graham flour)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp molasses
1/4 cup cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to mix them together. Add the cold butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 20 seconds (no more than 30).

Add the honey, molasses, water and vanilla. Pulse just until the dough comes together into a ball, another 20 seconds (again, not more than 30).

Turn the dough out onto a piece of waxed paper. Cover with a second piece of waxed paper and roll the dough out 1/2-inch thickness, being careful not to roll it outside of the boundaries of your baking sheet. Place the waxed paper-coated dough on a baking sheet and chill for at least an hour or up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Remove dough from the refrigerator and cut it into three even pieces. Let sit for 5 minutes to soften a little. Put each piece between waxed paper and roll out to a scant 1/8-inch thickness. Again, be careful not to roll outside the boundaries of your baking sheet.

Line your baking sheets with parchment paper. Gently unroll the top piece of waxed paper from your rolled-out dough place it on the parchment paper covered baking sheet. Gently peel back the other piece of waxed paper.

Repeat this process with the two other batches of dough. Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 2-inch squares. Poke each cracker with a fork at least six times - three times on each side evenly.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until they just start to brown around the edges. Do not let them get too dark. Remove from the oven and cool on racks. Let cool completely before storing them.

adapted from Retro Desserts: Totally Hip, Updated Classic Desserts from the '40S, '50S, 60s and '70s by Wayne Harley Brachman (William Morrow, 2000)

Exported from Home Cookin 5.9 (
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...