Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Product of the Week: Moramarco 00 Pasta Flour

Several weeks ago I took a knife skills class at the Chopping Block with my friend Nicole. I have been wanting to take this class for a long time and, since I have been trying to learn the proper techniques by myself (mostly via the internet - this is actually a decent video on the subject), I have been curious to see what I would learn in the class.

As it turns out, I learned quite a bit. I was gratified to discover that I have been holding my knife correctly, and my basic handling of the foods that were to be cut were decent enough, although I did learn a thing or two there. What I had not been doing properly, or maybe I should say to maximum effect, was the slicing itself. Every time you make a cut you must follow through with the knife on the board, positioning it for the next cut on the way back. That turned out to be worth the price of the class in itself. My chopping speed and precision have both improved amazingly since I took that class.

I arrived early, as is my wont these days, so I had plenty of time to look around the shop. They have all kinds of lovely kitchen tools, dishes, pots, knives and utensils, all top quality (and the price shows it). They also have a good selection of gourmet (for lack of a better term) food products, which seemed inordinately expensive to me. There were a few items they carried that I had seen for a considerably lower price at Treasure Island, and I do not consider Treasure Island to be expensive. So I just wandered around, looking, with no intent to purchase.

And then I saw the one thing I have been unable to find anywhere else that I have looked. Ever since I started making my own pasta, I have been reading about "00" flour, from Italy, which is a finer grind than the all-purpose flour we have here in the States. Several chefs swear by it for pasta and for pizza, so of course I was curious. But I was having trouble finding it. So I was pleasantly surprised to find it on the Chopping Block shelves. As with their other products it was quite expensive, but I decided it was worth the price to see how it compared to my regular flour.

It may be difficult to see in this picture, but this flour does, indeed, have a finer grain than all-purpose flour.

It also seems to be a brighter white. That might be due to it being milled from a different kind of wheat than we use here in the States. But it is an almost blinding white, compared to the off-white hue of the King Arthur all-purpose flour I usually buy.

I decided to start with a half-batch, using my usual by-hand process. The flour seemed a little more stiff than the all-purpose, but other than that it behaved pretty much the same. I was maybe a touch more elastic, and I wasn't sure at first that I would be able to roll the dough out as thin as I usually can roll the all-purpose. But in the end, the noodles looked the same. Now the test was in the cooking.

I decided to make a cream sauce with radicchio, which needed to be used sooner rather than later. The flavors seemed subtle enough for the texture and flavor of the pasta to come through so I could compare it to my regular pasta.

And I have to say, there was a difference. The 00 flour made for a denser, more chewy noodle. As for taste, there was a subtle difference that is difficult to describe - maybe a little more wheat-y, if that is a word.

The final result? There is a discernible difference between the two pastas. Whether it is a strong enough difference to justify the extra cost of the 00 flour remains to be seen. For now, I think it might be nice for special occasions, but the all-purpose flour is good enough for all-purpose use.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mac and Cheese

This is my second recent attempt at macaroni and cheese. For the first attempt, I used a pound of whole wheat macaroni and doubled a cheese sauce recipe. It was just a shade too much for my small casserole dish (but not enough for the larger one), and it came out on the dry side, but it was tasty enough for me to work on again. I had to wait, though, while I waded through the first batch. It's a good thing I like leftovers.

While I was working on those leftovers, I started thinking about my cooking habits. I grew up in a large family so I got used to cooking in large quantities. Even though I am no longer cooking for seven, and haven't been for a long time, I still cook enough to feed the proverbial army when I make certain things. I tend to cook in package quantities. When you're cooking for one or two, a pound of pasta easily makes a week's worth of lasagna, spaghetti, or mac and cheese. A head of cabbage makes a mountain of cole slaw.

While my knee-jerk reaction is still to cook certain items in large quantities, I am starting to be more conscious of it and I have been able to scale back on many of these dishes. Instead of using a whole head of cabbage for my slaw, I only use a portion of it, and then I find another use for the rest of it. While it was necessary to use two cans of tuna when I made tuna salad in the past, one can works just fine for me. And, most importantly to me (and for some reason the one around which I had the most trouble wrapping my mind), I started measuring out my pasta by the cup instead of by the package.

Which is why, when I decided to try my hand at mac and cheese again, I decided I could halve the recipe, which would still give me leftovers, but only for a few days instead of for the rest of the week.

It was easy to cut the ingredients in half. Because so much of savory cooking is a matter of taste, it is easy to cut back on ingredients. I will admit that it's hard to do in baking, when you have to try to cut an egg in half (but it is not impossible), but when you're talking about cheese, or meat, or vegetables, it won't ruin the dish if you have more of one thing or less of another. It's all pretty much a matter of taste anyway.

Cutting this mac and cheese recipe in half worked extremely well. It provided four generous servings that lasted me a few days. I was even able to skip a day without running the risk that it would go bad before I could eat it all.

And it was easy and delicious. It takes a little longer to make than the packaged versions, but it is just as easy and tastes much better. And I know exactly what has gone into it.

And if you do want to feed an army, it is easy enough to double the recipe.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 4 servings

1 cup whole wheat elbow macaroni
1 recipe basic cheese sauce (recipe follows)
3/4 cup grated cheese (any good melting cheese with some body)
1 tsp melted butter
1 Tbsp bread crumbs
1 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. Grease a 1-1/2-qt baking dish.

Cook the pasta 1 to 2 minutes less than package directions and put in a mixing bowl. Stir in about a tablespoon of cold water, to keep the pasta from sticking.

Prepare the cheese sauce and add it to the pasta, stirring it together. Add the grated cheese and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour the mixture into the greased baking dish. Combine the melted butter, breadcrumbs, and parmesan cheese and sprinkle over the top of the casserole.

Bake covered for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake another 30 minutes to brown the cheese and breadcrumb mixture.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (www.mountain-software.com)

Home Cookin Chapter: Sauces

Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 bay leaf
1-1/4 cups milk
3/4 cup grated cheese*
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
*any kind of melting cheese will do; I usually use half mild and half sharp cheddar

Melt butter in medium-sized saucepan over medium low heat. Stir in flour and cook until the flour mixture starts to bubble. Add bay leaf and stir. Raise the heat to medium high and stir in one-third of the
milk. Stir briskly until the sauce is thick and smooth, then repeat the process with the remaining milk. Continue to cook stirring frequently, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cheese, mustard, cayenne. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (www.mountain-software.com)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Baking Class: Bagels

We are experiencing temperatures well below average this weekend in Chicago, so it seemed like an ideal opportunity to turn on the oven. I was in a bagel kind of mood, so that is what I decided to make. Bagels are deceptively easy to make. I always thought they would be a lot of trouble, maybe more trouble than they are worth. Which says a lot, because I think they are actually worth a lot.

I have a memory of my father making bagels. I must have been about 3 or 4 years old, and it was one of those rare occasions when he was home (he was a traveling salesman at the time). It must have been a weekend, but every day was pretty much the same to me so I can't say for sure.

When it was time to shape the bagels, he turned the balls of dough over to me and instructed me to roll them into snakes, and then shape the snakes into circles. I knew how to do that because I had already rolled out many Play-doh snakes in my short time on the planet, so I felt confident in my ability. I don't remember if my father told me to be sure that the circles were well secured, or if he checked my work, but according to my brother they came apart in the water bath and we ended up with bagel snakes instead of bagels. I don't remember that. All I remember is that they were delicious.

When I was growing up in Houston, there were only two places I knew of where we could get bagels. We could get them at Alfred's, which was a regular lunch spot for my parents and their closest friends and where we spent many a Saturday afternoon after Temple. And there was the 3 Brothers Bakery from where, in addition to a baker's dozen of bagels, on special occasions my father would pick up a dozen assorted danishes (cheese danish was my favorite, but cherry, lemon and pineapple were close contenders). (Heck, who am I kidding? I loved all of the flavors and plan to tackle them some day soon.)

Back to bagels. I found a recipe in Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Bread that looked quite simple. I always thought the boiling process would be messy and time-consuming, but it turned out to be neither. It's only slightly more complicated than pizza dough, which has become second nature to me since I started making it a couple of years ago. The dough only rises once, so it is not an all-day process. In fact, if you get up and get started early enough, you could be eating them for a lovely weekend brunch. Although I have not yet tested this, you could probably even mix it up the night before, stick it in the refrigerator, and then finish the process in the morning. (I'll get back to you on that.)

But whatever you do, I suggest you make them. It is virtually impossible to get real bagels, even in a big city like Chicago. What most people call bagels is just bread in a circle. Real bagels have a tough, chewy exterior with a dense, chewy interior. At least the bagels I grew up with were like that. These come the closest to my childhood memories.

Close enough that a co-worker who came into my office and saw one I had brought in for breakfast asked me where I got the real bagel. I told her I made them and gave her one, which she took home and toasted for lunch. When she came back, she agreed it was the real deal. That's all the validation I need!

The first time I made them I used different toppings - sesame seed, poppy seeds, garlic, and plain. After that, I realized that sesame seeds are my favorite so I just started making them all sesame seed bagels. Obviously, your mileage may vary.

The original recipe has you divide the dough into 10 pieces, roll them into balls, and use your thumb to make the hole. They made pretty enough bagels, but did not seem quite authentic to me. For the next batch I tried rolling the dough into snakes and making a circle out of them. I liked the way they looked more, although they were not quite as even and consistent as the thumb-punching method. Either way is fine, but if you use the snake-rolling method, be sure to roll the ends together well so they don't come apart when they are boiled. I have included both methods in the recipe below.

Bagels are good with butter, but really ought to be eaten with a schmear of cream cheese. (Lox is highly desirable, but not necessary.)
Home Cookin Chapter: Breads and Muffins


3-1/2 cups bread or all-purpose flour, approximately*
1-1/2 Tbsp dry yeast (2 packages)
3 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp salt
1-1/2 cups hot water (120-130 deg. F)
4 quarts water
1-1/2 Tbsp malt syrup or sugar
1 egg white, beaten, mixed with 1 tsp water
Toppings of choice (sesame seeds, poppy seeds, onion, garlic, etc.)

Measure 3 cups flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and whisk together. Add the hot water and, with a wooden spoon, stir it in vigorously. Add the rest of the flour, a little bit at a time, until the dough gets thick and heavy. Turn it out onto a floured work surface. Oil the mixing bowl.

Knead the dough for about ten minutes, until it is firm and solid. Add flour as necessary. Form it into a ball and place it top side down in the oiled mixing bowl. Twirl the dough around in the oil and then turn it over so the oiled side is now on top. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled, about one hour.

While the dough is rising, fill a large saucepan with 3 to 4 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Add the malt syrup or sugar and turn it down to a simmer. The water should just barely be moving. At this time, prepare a large baking sheet by covering it with parchment paper and then sprinkling cornmeal over the parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 400 deg. F.


Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured work surface and punch it down with your fingertips. Divide the dough into 12 even pieces and let them rest for 2 to 3 minutes.

Take each piece and roll it into a long strip by applying pressure with both hands in the middle. You want the ends to be thicker than the middle. Wrap the rolled out strip around your hand, overlapping the two thicker ends across your palm. Roll the two edges together, palm down against the work surface, until they are well connected and you have a circle of dough. Lay it on the work surface to rest and repeat with the rest of the pieces.


Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured work surface and punch it down with your fingertips. Divide the dough into 12 even pieces and form them into balls. Allow them to relax 2 to 3 minutes, then flatten them slightly.

With your thumb, press down in the middle of the bagel and work it through the dough. Twirl the dough between your two index fingers until it is about two inches wide and then put it back on the work surface (the hole will shirnk back once you put it down). Do the same until you have ten bagels shaped.


Working in batches of two or three, place each bagel carefully in the simmering water. Cook for one minute, turning them over halfway. Remove them carefully and drain them briefly on a towel, and then place them on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. If you are not using parchment paper, grease the baking sheet. It is ok to place them close together; they can even be touching.

When all of the bagels are done, brush the tops lightly with the egg wash, and then sprinkle on the toppings - sesame seeds, poppy seeds, garlic, onion, or salt. Or, you can leave them plain.

Put the baking sheet in the middle oven rack and cook for 25 to 30 minutes. After about ten minutes, when the tops have just started to brown, turn the bagels over so they will stay round. Remove them from the oven when they are shiny and brown. Place on a metal rack to cool.

*any combination of bread, all-purpose, or whole wheat flour will work here. I have been using half white whole wheat and half bread flour. I think next time I will use all white whole wheat flour.

adapted from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads, by Bernard Clayton (Simon & Schuster, 2003)

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (www.mountain-software.com)

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Green Market Spinach and Potato Frittata

The Green Market started up outdoors this week. Hooray! It is starting a little earlier than usual, but I am not complaining.

It was a little on the chilly side, but that did not stop me and Misreall from venturing forth. I was determined not to go crazy, but I ended up with a few more items than I had planned to purchase. I bought two bunches of spinach, some of last year's potatoes and a couple of turnips. Those were within the range of what I had planned. What I did not take into account was the big bright green head (bunch? stalk?) of bok choy and the container of freshly churned butter. I can live with that.

The bok choy will go into a pasta dish over the weekend. I plan to make clapshot with the blue potatoes and the turnips. The red potatoes (yes, I did buy two different kinds) will go into a salad.

The spinach (and one of the purple potatoes) has already gone into this frittata. With a hint of tarragon and some mozzarella and parmigiano reggiano cheeses it makes for a quick, easy and delicious breakfast that will last me the rest of the work week, and some. It's still cool enough to put it under the broiler at the end so it puffs up and browns the cheeses.


Makes 4 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 baby blue potato, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 bunch of spinach, rinsed and dried and cut into strips
6 eggs
1/2 tsp tarragon
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp grated Mozzarella cheese
2 Tbsp grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

Heat oil and butter together in an 8-inch non-stick oven-proof or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook for a minute or two, then add the garlic. Cook for another 2 minutes, until the onions are just translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Add potatoes and continue to cook until the potatoes have softened.

Add the spinach to the skillet, letting it cook down and soften. Turn on the broiler.
While the spinach is cooking down, crack the eggs into a medium-sized mixing bowl and add the tarragon, salt and pepper. Whisk briskly until the eggs are blended and frothy, and then pour them slowly into the pan with the potatoes and spinach. Lower the heat and cook until the eggs have mostly set, running a spatula around the base every once in a while to make sure it is not sticking.

When there is just a little bit of runny egg on the top, layer with the cheeses. Put under the broiler and cook for about 2 minutes, until the top has puffed up and the cheeses are brown.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Recall of the Week: . . . wait for it . . . Tomatoes!

This time it's Salmonella. In tomatoes. Packaged by Six L's Packing Company.

No illness has been reported yet. For once it was caught before any ill effects were reported.

A mini victory.

Affected states are:
Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Canada
Details can be found here.

I will still continue to buy organic, and as local as I can find.

Photo from Six L's.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Curried Sweet Potato

A weekend visit to Austin and a little bit of a malaise led to a mini blog vacation for me. I'm not sure the cause of the malaise, but I just did not have the mental energy to write a post and malaise sounds like a good enough excuse to me so I am running with it.

I also flubbed the recipe for the Easter post I was going to make and that put me in a bit of a bad mood. The general idea is still there, but I could not get it where I wanted it to be in time. Maybe next year.

I have become somewhat adept at improvising Indian-style dishes and I am quite proud of that. For the longest time I had reconciled myself to the idea that Indian cuisine was just one of those cuisines that I would never be able to replicate at home. For one thing, it was the food with which I was least familiar and I only had it on rare occasions. There was one Indian restaurant in Austin that I knew of at the time, and I was hard pressed to find anyone willing to go there with me on a regular basis. After I moved to Chicago and discovered a few Indian restaurants in my neighborhood alone, however, all of that changed and I began to enjoy it regularly.

But I still did not believe it was anything I could recreate. I knew true Indian cooking involved more than just throwing curry powder into everything. I would say that my spice cabinet was more broadly stocked than the average American cook, but the only Indian spice in there was curry powder. And I knew that was a shortcut spice, and not truly, authentically Indian (I was only half right about that), but regardless, it made everything taste the same, and I knew by then that most Indians made their own spice blends, depending on what they were making.

And then I found a recipe that looked easy enough and only had a few spices. I did not have any of them, but ground coriander and cumin seed were easy enough to find. As I have written before, the asafoetida was a bit of a challenge, but the recipe said garlic could be substituted for that so I didn't even worry about it, until after I made the recipe and loved it enough to seek asaefoetida out at my local spice shop.

After my initial success, I was inspired to keep going. Each recipe I made built on the ingredients I already had on hand, plus one or two new ones, so I never had to buy too many new spices at a time. And each time I made something new, I became more familiar with how the spices were used and how the flavor profiles were built.

It wasn't long before I was grinding my own spices and making my own spice blends.

And creating my own dishes. Like this curried sweet potato. This dish was born out the fact that I had some chapati dough to use up and nothing with which to eat it. I wanted something I could whip up fast. I had stopped at the store on the way home from work and grabbed a couple of organic tomatoes, some red onion and a sweet potato. From there it was a quick half hour to a hearty, satisfying dinner.

I did not use every spice in my cabinet, contrary to what you might think from looking at the list. If there are any spices that you don't have, or don't like, just leave them out. Heck, you could even just use a tablespoon of your favorite curry powder and call it a day. I'm sure the result will be just as delicious.

How did I make the chapatis? That's for another post.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Makes 4 servings

1 medium to large sweet potato (about 1 lb), peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Cayenne pepper to taste
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup vegetable broth or water
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Place chopped sweet potatoes with cold water to cover in 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until just tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet. Add mustard seeds. When they begin to pop add the onion and cook for about 1 minute, then add garlic and ginger. Cook until the onions are soft and translucent.

Add the coriander, garam masala, paprika, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon and cayennte. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook for an additional 2 minutes to let the spices bloom. Do not let them burn.

Add the tomatoes and cook for another 10 minutes, until they have cooked down and formed a thick sauce. Add the sweet potatoes and the vegetable broth. Cook until the sweet potatoes are heated through. With a fork or a potato masher, crush the sweet potatoes to desired consistency, leaving them somewhat lumpy.

Remove from the heat and add the cilantro. Serve with chapatis or rice and garnish with more cilantro.

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (www.mountain-software.com)

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