Monday, September 29, 2014

Baking Class: Homemade Vanilla Wafers

I haven't been baking much lately, but the weather is cooling and I've been feeling the urge.  We had our first company lunch after a summer hiatus this week and I decided to make dessert.

I had been looking at a recipe for homemade vanilla wafers for quite a while and this seemed the perfect time to try it.  The last time I decided to buy Vanilla Wafers at the store I took one look at the ingredients and put the box right back on the shelf.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with this humble little cookie.  When I was a child, it was pretty much the only sweet thing we had in the house on a regular basis that I liked.  Note that I did not love them.  But if I wanted something sweet, it was vanilla wafers or nothing.  So I ate them.

And I think I've written before about the time I was eating them for an afternoon snack and my great-aunt was sitting at the table with me and asked me if I wouldn't rather have moon cookies.  I asked what they were and she said she would only tell me what they were if I said yes.  So I said yes. And she immediately the cookies up from plate and took a half bite out of each and every one of them and laid them back down on my plate and smiled smugly at me.

And as usual, I knew there was some lesson I was supposed to be learning from that, but the only one I learned was to never trust my great-aunt again.  (Further incidents only served to cement this lesson, I am sorry to say.)

Having had so much success with my homemade graham crackers, I wondered if the difference between homemade and store-bought vanilla wafers would be just as striking.

And it was.  These are warm gems of vanilla sweetness with none of the chemical aftertaste I have always noticed in the store bought variety.  And they are easy to throw together.  I actually made the dough the night before I baked them, so it was a total of about half an hour each night, and they could be kept in the refrigerator for a few days before baking if necessary.

I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour here.  I have always thought of vanilla wafers as one of the healthier options in the cookie world.  Whole wheat pastry flour makes it even more healthy without compromising the flavor, in my humble opinion.  If you try it I'm sure you will agree.
Home Cooking 8.59 Chapter: Baked Goods (Sweet/Savory)
Makes 4 dozen cookies

1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder

Combine the butter, sugar, egg, milk and vanilla in a medium mixing bowl and use a hand mixer on medium high to cream the ingredients together. Add the flour and mix well. The result will be somewhat wet and sticky. Chill for at least half an hour or up to 3 days.

Preheat oven to 400° and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Roughly form the dough into small round balls about an inch in diameter and place them on the parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake at 400° for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown.

from Penzeys Holiday 2013 catalog
exported from Home Cookin 8.59 (

Monday, September 22, 2014

Chickpea and Greens Curry Soup

My years-long streak of bad luck with Vegetarian Times recipes seems to have finally broken.  I had some chickpeas in the freezer and was looking for something to do with them when I ran across this reader recipe I had torn out of the magazine back in 2011.  I had everything on hand except for the greens so I grabbed some Swiss Chard at the store and was ready to go.

This cooks up pretty quickly and makes a satisfying lunch or dinner.  And you can add it to your repertoire of workday lunches, as it also travels well.

As usual, if you do not have the spices required, you can easily substitute with an equal amount of curry powder (which is what the original recipes calls for, so you won't even be cheating).
Home Cookin Version 8.59 Chapter: Soups and Stews
6-8 Servings

1 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp paprika
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
2 bunches Swiss chard, stems removed and chopped; leaves roughly chopped
1-1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
4 cups vegetable broth or water
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
2 Tbsp cup chopped fresh dill (optional)
Yogurt for garnish (optional)

Heat oil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cumin and mustard seeds and cook for about 30 seconds, until the mustard seeds start popping. Add the onions, garlic and ginger and cook for 2 minutes, then add the jalapeno and chard stems and continue cook, stirring, until the onions have started to brown.

Add the spices and cook for 1 minute to release the spices, then add the tomato and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the tomatoes begin to soften.

Add the chickpeas, coconut milk, and broth and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the chard leaves and coconut milk and cook until the chard leaves have wilted, 5 to 10 more minutes. Add the cilantro and dill if using and serve garnished with the yogurt and more cilantro and dill, if desired.

adapted from Vegetarian Times, March 2011

Exported from Home Cookin 8.59 (

Monday, September 15, 2014

Yellow Beans with Tomato and Garlic

It's been an odd growing season around here this summer (if you can even call it summer), what with all the cool weather and rain, so everything was late and most of the things I regularly buy were neither plentiful nor so good this time around.  However, there is always that one fruit or vegetable that seems to thrive on the peculiarities and this year was no exception.  The beans seemed to rise to the challenge, and every time I went to the market they looked so bright and fresh and tasty that I ended up buying them every time.  Everything else ranged from "oh my, the poor dears," to "well I guess these look ok," but the beans just shone.  That is the one thing that I can hold onto from this season - the beans were plentiful and delicious.

I mostly made my Slow-Braised Green Beans, which were a hit pretty much everywhere I took them.  But this week I was gifted with the most beautiful yellow beans from my friend's garden and they were so firm and fresh that I wanted to try to retain as much of that fresh crispness as I could.  So I decided to try a different technique.  I wanted to cook them quickly but I did not want them to be too crisp, and as anyone who has cooked beans knows, the line between perfectly cooked and a bowl of mush is very fine, indeed.  That is why I was so happy to find the slow-braised method; it is the only time where the beans can cook for a long time without ending up a pile of mush.

But I wanted something faster than the slow-braising method, and I didn't feel like pulling out the wok for a stir-fry, which is another method of cooking the beans without overcooking them that I will sometimes use.  Besides, I wanted to try a different method to see if I have learned anything new in the past few years.  So I decided to just saute them in a skillet and hope for the best.

I was quite happy with the results.  When the beans were cooked I removed them from the skillet so I could thicken the braising liquid.  I ended up with perfectly cooked beans covered in a thick, rich sauce.
Home Cookin 8.59: My Recipes
4 servings

1 lb yellow beans, trimmed and broken in half
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried)
1 tsp fresh dill (or 1/2 tsp dried)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup tomato puree

Heat oil and butter over medium-high heat in medium sized skillet. Add garlic and cook for a minute or two, stirring constantly, being careful not to let it burn. Add the beans and cook for about 5 minutes, until they just start to get tender. Add the wine, tomato puree, thyme and dill. Season with the salt and pepper.

As soon as the liquid begins to boil take the heat down to low, cover the skillet, and let the beans cook for ten minutes (or less if you like them more crisp).

Remove the beans from the skillet with a slotted spoon and set them aside in your serving plate or bowl.  Cook down the tomato and wine liquid over high heat until it thickens, about 7 minutes. Serve the beans with the thickened sauce poured over them.


Exported from Home Cookin 8.59 (

Monday, September 08, 2014

Sopes with Baked Beans with Poblano Peppers and Tomatillo Salsa

A couple of weeks ago one of my favorite stands at the Green Market had beautiful tomatillos and Treasure Island had some gorgeous poblano peppers.

So I made a batch of tomatillo salsa.  I modeled it after the tomatillo pesto I posted about here, but I didn't look up the recipe and forgot the toasted walnuts and lime juice but it was just fine, and tasted great.  I thought it would go well with the Baked Beans with Poblano Peppers I posted about here, and to complete the dish I decided to make Oven Baked Sopes on which to serve them.

I felt like a genius for coming up with this winning meal and ate like royalty.  You can eat like royalty, too.  Just follow the links!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Spiced Roasted Cauliflower

I wanted to roast some cauliflower and was thinking about what spices I wanted to use.  I love it roasted with za'atar but had just made za'atr bread for a potluck dinner and had used it all for that.  I also like it roasted with cumin and coriander so I decided to go in that direction.  So I decided to go with a more Indian-spiced theme, but I wanted more than the cumin, coriander and turmeric combination I usually use with roasted vegetables so I basically pulled out the entire army of basic Indian spices.

The result was spectacular.  The spices blended together perfectly and provided a fresh, vibrant flavor to the cauliflower.  This is a dish that is sure to wow even the most jaded palate.
 Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

4 servings

1 large head cauliflower
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp spanish smoked paprika
1 tsp amchur (optional)
1/4 tsp cayenne, or to taste
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 425°F. and line a large baking dish with parchment paper.

Cut cauliflower into large florets and place into a large bowl. Add the salt and rest of the spices. Add the olive oil and mix well.

Spread the cauliflower out on a rimmed baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Place the baking sheet on a middle rack in the oven and bake until the cauliflower is just soft, 25 to 30 minutes. Be careful not to overcook it.


Exported from Home Cookin 8.58 (
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