11/28/13

Greek Yogurt

PinExt Greek Yogurt

greek yogurt 300x225 Greek Yogurt

No, I’m not going to post about how to cook a turkey. I don’t care that it’s the day before Thanksgiving. There are a million and one (at least) shows, posts, websites and video tutorials on that subject. I refuse to jump on that bandwagon, and I have faith in my loyal readers.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk turkey….er… yogurt. My husband and I have quite a history with yogurt. In our first year of marriage, I baked a lot. I love to bake; my husband loves to eat my baked goods. This was a wonderful arrangement at first, but then it caught up with us. We needed a change. Like so many others, we started hunting for that perfect healthful alternative to our favorite tasty treats and discovered the beauty of Greek-style yogurt. It was love at first bite. Creamy, rich, thick and flavorful, we realized that we’d found something amazing. It’s great on its own, as substrate for fruit and toppings or used in recipes (such as Greek yogurt pannacotta). We became addicts, making desperate midnight grocery runs to fulfill our cravings.

We recently started tracking our expenditures more closely. Greek yogurt was taking up an increasingly massive part of our food bill:(. To cut it out of our diet was off the table; I started thinking about how I could make it. I read a book and numerous online articles on yogurt-making. All were insistent on using a thermometer and many refused to acknowledge a method that didn’t require a yogurt maker. I do not own (or particularly want to own) a yogurt maker. Furthermore, I have never cooked with a thermometer. You may view this as blasphemy (how could I do such a thing! Aren’t you afraid of eating raw meat and getting food poisoning?), but think about it for a bit: people have been cooking meat, making yogurt and doing other culinary tasks for millennia before the invention of the thermometer. We’ve been granted some pretty darn good natural temperature-measuring sensors in our skin.

If you prefer to use modern instrumentation, don’t worry. I’ll use temperatures in degrees along with more archaic methods to let you choose which way to do it.

Ingredients:
1 gallon milk (I like to use 1% or 2% for a good balance of creaminess to calories)
7-8 oz container of your favorite-tasting plain yogurt (I’ve been using Fage brand)
Optional:
1/2 C (or to taste) powdered sugar
2-3 tsp. vanilla extract

Equipment:
1 large lidded pot, preferably with a heavy bottom
1 strainer (I use the pasta-draining insert that came with the pot I use)
1 non-terry cloth towel or cheese muslin (not regular cheesecloth; it must be finer)
1 whisk or slotted spoon
1 container for the finished yogurt
Ice chest

Sterilization is your priority. Fill the pot with water and boil the whisk or send it through the dishwasher on the sterilization cycle. Only after everything is clean and sterile should you begin. Remember, we’re trying to create a large bacterial colony. It should be the right bacteria, not whatever happens to be floating around the kitchen! Fill the pot with your milk and start heating it over medium to medium-low heat. You will definitely need to stir constantly, as the milk solids have a tendency to settle to the bottom and burn. Wait for the milk to start to foam (but not boil!) or reach 185 degrees.

yogurt foaming 300x225 Greek Yogurt

Milk starting to foam

Hold it here for at least five minutes. Turn off the heat and let it cool to about 110-120 degrees (it will take about an hour; stir it occasionally to keep a skin from forming), or about the temperature you’d use for a baby’s bathwater (warm but in no way uncomfortably hot). You may now add your starter yogurt without fear of killing our microscopic friends. In general, cooler temperatures will still produce good yogurt but will take longer. Temperatures that are too hot will kill the beneficial bacteria and will produce spoiled milk. This can be very, very bad. Think of it like playing The Price is Right: You want to be as close as possible to the correct temperatures without going over. You lose everything if you guess too high, so guess cooler if you’re unsure.

Whisk or stir the yogurt thoroughly to combine; small lumps are acceptable but a smooth distribution is preferred. Put the lid on the pot and put it in the ice chest. Fill the ice chest with 110-120 degree water up to the level of the yogurt in the pot and let sit in a warm place, undisturbed, for 6-10 hours. I usually find that 7 hours is ideal for my taste. If the water cools off too much you can carefully replace it with warmer water, or just let the yogurt culture for longer. The yogurt should be set but still slightly wobbly; whey floating on the surface is usually a sign that you’ve let it culture for too long. The longer it incubates the sourer it will be.

The above instructions are just basic yogurt-making. How, you might ask, does it become Greek-style yogurt? The Greek and Balkan peoples have been straining their yogurt for thousands of years to create a concentrated, thickened yogurt we know as (predictably) Greek yogurt. This is the second stage. Again we start with sterilization, this time of the strainer and towel. You can do all your sterilization in one batch; I just prefer to do it as needed so I don’t have anything sitting and accumulating germs for seven hours. Place the towel in the strainer and pour your yogurt in. Place the strainer over your freshly emptied pot, clap the lid on, and refrigerate while the whey drips out. This can take 3 hours or overnight, depending on how thick you want your finished yogurt to be. I personally prefer very thick yogurt and therefore strain it overnight. Skim or lower fat milk will produce more whey than whole milk. You may have to drain the whey occasionally if there isn’t enough space for it to accumulate without having the yogurt sit in it. Giving the yogurt a stir every once in a while will also make it smoother (the yogurt tends to stratify otherwise).

yogurt drainer 300x225 Greek Yogurt

My yogurt-draining contraption

Finally scrape out the yogurt into its sterile container and give it a final stir. Add some vanilla and powdered sugar (it dissolves better than granulated) or honey if you like; leave it plain if not. Voila, homemade Greek-style yogurt!

Variations: lemon extract and/or lemon zest makes a delightful lemon yogurt; any extract or flavoring you like can be easily added. Cinnamon is a delightful addition. Feel free to try whatever sounds interesting icon smile Greek Yogurt

11/21/13

Rotkohl (Cooked Red Cabbage)

PinExt Rotkohl (Cooked Red Cabbage)

rotkohl 300x225 Rotkohl (Cooked Red Cabbage)
Looking for a great side dish for your Rahmschnitzel? Something flavorful, easy, inexpensive and appropriate? Look no futher! Come on down, there’s rotkohl enough for everyone!

Rotkohl (in case you were wondering) is a German-style preparation of red cabbage (not rotten cabbage). Unlike many of my other posts, this requires very little skill and very little time. Can you believe it? I’ve actually posted on something that’s relatively accessible to the ordinary modern American. Chances are you’ve had a version of this dish; my Irish grandmother (not my other, German grandmother) even made it regularly.

I like to use applesauce for the sweet element in this dish; my grandmother used grape jelly. I add a fair amount of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to my homemade applesauce (recipe coming soon!). I think that the added spices give the rotkohl an interesting spin- feel free to add them if you like.

Rotkohl Recipe:
1/2 a head of red cabbage, chopped finely
1/2 a red onion, chopped finely
1 Tbl butter
1/2 C stock (beef or ham are preferable, but chicken or vegetable stock can work)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbl applesauce or jelly (homemade, spiced applesauce is best)

I hate to break it to you, but the hardest work you’ll do on this dish is the chopping phase. Cabbages are annoying this way- little leaf bits tend to fly every which way, and chopping it all can be tedious. It’s time to go medieval!

f 9 300x225 Rotkohl (Cooked Red Cabbage)

Going medieval on a cabbage

This is my favorite tool for chopping large amounts of anything. I use it for making dumpling fillings, coleslaw, vegetables for soup, etc. This particular chopper is an antique, like many of my kitchen tools. Similar choppers are available new, usually labeled as an ulu or mezzaluna. You could also very carefully pulse the cabbage in a food processor. You do run the risk of turning it into barely recognizable organic sludge and dealing with a complicated clean-up, though.

f 10 300x225 Rotkohl (Cooked Red Cabbage)

All done!

See, wasn’t that easy? Almost as easy as those TV cooking shows, eh? If you were thinking ahead, you could have also chopped up that onion. It’s okay… I forgot about that part until now as well. I’ll wait while you finish that.

 

 

 

 

Done? Great! Now start melting the butter in a cast iron or other heavy skillet. Add the cabbage and onion when the butter is melted and sweat until the onion is translucent. Add the stock, simmer for about 10-15 minutes (or until most of the liquid has disappeared) and finish with the applesauce or jelly.

Serve with Rahmschnitzel, Sauerbraten, a roasted ham or your favorite main dish. Go ahead, dig in! Don’t wait for me. icon smile Rotkohl (Cooked Red Cabbage)

11/20/13

Scalloped Potatoes

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scalloped potatoes 300x225 Scalloped Potatoes
Scalloped potatoes are rather labor-intensive, unhealthy (all that cheese) and expensive (all that cheese!), so it’s not something I make often. One question always seems to arise: when is a good time to make scalloped potatoes? The simplest answer is a few days after you’ve baked a ham. My family always had a ham for New Year’s Day; the leftovers usually were reborn into melting cheesy delight a few days afterward. I was always content with this arrangement.

My husband, always looking for excuses to have scalloped potatoes, thinks there ought to be a national holiday in their honor. With the ridiculous numbers of lobbying groups as holiday-happy as they are, I thought it might already exist- so I checked that great and powerful source of all knowledge, the internet. I couldn’t find an actual scalloped potato day (although there are various dairy-based holidays, a national potato day, a national potato month [this is, after all, the federal government] and a national casserole day). In these forays I also learned something of vital importance- today, November 19th, is National Blow Bagpipes Day and Play Monopoly Day. So, while you’re listening to your state-sanctioned bagpipe tunes and playing an endless game of monopoly, you may as well eat some scalloped potatoes.

Here it is: THE RECIPE!
8 medium large potatoes; I like russets
~ 1/2 lb ham scraps, diced
1 large onion, cut in 10-degree meridians
4-5 mushrooms, sliced
1-2 broccoli crowns, diced
4-5 cloves of garlic, diced
2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl flour
2 Tbl cream
1 1/2 C buttermilk
salt and pepper to taste
~ 1 tsp garlic powder (optional)
1 lb good melting cheese (I used half mozzarella and half muenster; swiss, jack and provolone are some of my other favorites), shredded or finely cut
breadcrumbs (optional)

The Prep: Start by boiling the potatoes whole; this will take about 30-40 minutes (even upwards of an hour) depending upon the size of the potatoes. In the meantime, you’ve got a lot of chopping to do.
cut veggies 1 300x225 Scalloped Potatoes
Sweat your beautifully cut vegetables until the onions are transparent and the broccoli turns a brilliant green. Put them somewhere handy and use the same pan (cast iron, I hope) to make the sauce. Start by making a blonde roux (the butter and flour); stir constantly over medium heat (or use low heat; it will just take longer) until it takes on a lovely slightly toasted color.

roux 300x225 Scalloped Potatoes

Blonde roux


When you’ve reached this point, remove the pan from the heat. Quickly stir in the cream and raw garlic. If the cream instantly steams, your pan is too hot and will need to be cooled slightly before adding the buttermilk. Stir in the buttermilk, salt, pepper and garlic powder (if you’re like me and want that extra garlic flavor). Turn on the heat to low or medium low and stir until the sauce is smooth, thick and creamy. By now your potatoes are probably done; remove them from the water and slice them after an appropriate amount of cooling time.

The Assembly: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Take a 7-quart Dutch oven (or other large, lidded, oven-proof vessel) and lightly grease the interior. Add a small dollop of the sauce to the bottom; layer the sliced potatoes, ham, vegetables and cheese on top of each other. Press down evenly to prevent air pockets. Repeat this process about four times or until you run out of ingredients. You can put breadcrumbs on top for a crispy topping; I usually refrain from this. Put the lid on and bake for about 45 or until the casserole is hot, bubbly and fused into a cheesy, delicious glob.

scalloped potatoes in pot 300x225 Scalloped Potatoes

Warm and cheesy


If you like a crispy topping, take the lid off for the last 15 minutes of baking to toast the breadcrumbs nicely.

Serve in a bowl, or a plate, or a platter… or a trough- it really doesn’t matter! icon smile Scalloped Potatoes

11/18/13

Chicken Liver Salad

PinExt Chicken Liver Salad

chicken liver salad 300x225 Chicken Liver Salad
Who could possibly not like liver, spinach and vegetables? Oh. Really, that many of you? You must not have tried this recipe.

Most people who dislike liver (my husband included) focus on its bitter, metallic taste or its spongy texture. Don’t worry- we can cure this! Soaking liver in milk can tone down its rather… strong… taste and chicken livers are relatively mild to start with. Balancing it with other pungent flavors keeps the liver from hogging the spotlight. If it’s the texture that you find unappealing, let them fry! A crispy crust can go a long way to make anything (even liver) palatable.

I actually enjoy cooking and eating chicken livers. They’re some of the mildest livers available, they’re dirt cheap, full of nutrients and quick to cook. If you manage it just right, you can even come up with something fancy and French sounding to impress your guests while still being a cheapskate. There aren’t many ingredients that have all those qualities. I think it’s high time we started appreciating such a culinary diamond in the rough.

Spinach, unfortunately, has many of the same image problems as liver. It has many of the same benefits as well. Full of nutrients (even considered a super food), inexpensive (depending on your location; in the Northeast it was pretty pricey, but here in the desert near California it’s $1.29/ lb.) and easy to prepare, spinach has some serious advantages. It’s also nearly universally hated by children, many of whom never grow out of it. I admit that I wasn’t particularly fond of it in my younger years- I could never get over the slimy, mushy mass of leaf matter that long ago ceased to be individual leaves. Then I discovered spinach salad. The leaves were fresh, bright, crunchy, full of the zesty, living, green taste I now associate with the vegetable.

I haven’t cooked spinach since.

And, because you’ve asked so nicely, here’s the recipe for chicken liver salad:

1-2 lbs chicken livers, lobes divided*
milk to cover the livers (optional)
1 C (give or take) all-purpose flour
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp onion powder
1/4 C balsamic or red wine vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbl olive oil
half a red onion, sliced
3-4 stalks celery, chopped, leaves kept separately
1/2 lb spinach

*A liver has multiple lobes (the fat, meaty parts) with thin strips of connective tissue between them. Cut and remove the connective tissue, otherwise it will be a chewy, stringy mess.

If you are sensitive to the liver flavor, start by soaking the livers in milk for at least 2 hours (up to overnight) and discard the milk when finished. I usually skip this part since I don’t mind the slight bitterness of liver. Make the dredge next by combining the flour, salt, pepper and onion powder. Heat a large heavy skillet (cast iron is your friend) over medium high heat with enough oil to barely cover the bottom. A drop of water should dance for about a second on a properly heated pan. Dredge the livers, shake off any excess flour mixture and add to the hot pan. You will probably have to fry in batches; don’t overload the pan. Each liver should have some room around it. Cook each liver until the outside is a crispy golden brown and the inside is cooked through; you may have to turn the heat down slightly if the pan starts to overheat during later batches. You can test for doneness with a thermometer (not for me, but each to their own), by slicing the thickest liver in the pan and looking for a uniform grey color, or by feeling the firmness of the livers themselves (experienced cooks only, please). Set the cooked livers aside and deglaze your pan with the vinegar. I also like to add my chopped celery, garlic and thyme at this time (I never could help but make a pun, even one as obvious as this. I’m sorry!). If your onion is on the strong side you can add it to the pan at this point as well. Stir frequently and slowly drizzle the olive oil in. Place your spinach and celery leaves in a large bowl; quickly toss with the hot vinaigrette and vegetables from the pan. Place the crispy chicken livers on top and serve.

There comes a time when we have to overcome the fears of our childhood and move on to true food maturity. It’s a rough path, but by taking advantage of some of the most under-appreciated ingredients available there’s a substantial reward: self-growth and good food. What could be better?

Variations: There’s a classic salad from Piedmont called finanziera that adds mushrooms, artichokes and rosemary. I haven’t tried this, but the next time artichokes are a reasonable price I think I will. You can try it too- please let me know in the comments how it turns out!

11/12/13

Rahmschnitzel

PinExt Rahmschnitzel

rahmschnitzel 300x225 Rahmschnitzel
Saying “Rahmschnitzel for dinner” to my husband is like mentioning W A L K to a dog- it garners a surprisingly similar reaction! If he had a tail, it would be wagging. This still surpises me- I love German cuisine, but my husband usually isn’t that interested. Unlike some other classic German dishes (I’m looking at you, sauerbraten), which require a huge time investment to produce something that many people find off-putting, rahmschnitzel is relatively simple and accessible to most American palates. It’s incredibly balanced- its sweet, sour, savory, creamy and earthy flavors sing in harmony.

Now that you’re suitably impressed, and ready to overlook my lackluster photograph, let’s get to the meat (pun intended) of this post. ‘Rahm’ means cream in German. Therefore, rahmschnitzel means cream schnitzel (a thinly-pounded breaded cutlet). The meat is cut thin, pounded thinner, and lightly fried to crispy perfection. The cream sauce is laden with mushrooms, balanced with white wine, with onions and garlic added for good measure.

You’ve guessed it- here’s the recipe!

1 1/2 lbs thinly cut pork or veal
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 C all-purpose flour
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp paprika (smoked is best)
1/2- 3/4 C white wine (I used Rhine)
8 button or cremini mushrooms
1 large onion
4 cloves of garlic
2 Tbls cream

Start by pounding the meat. Just about any boneless cut of pork or veal will work for this; pork loin is one of my favorites. Single muscle cuts (like loin) will keep together better than cuts that contain multiple muscles (like the pork sirloin chops I used for this particular batch). I use the bottom of my mortar as a meat hammer because it is smooth and heavy. Most commercial meat hammers are too light; surface textures meant to tenderize meat can tear a thin cut such as what we’re using here.

schnitzel pounding 300x225 Rahmschnitzel

my schnitzel pounder

You’ll want to mix the flour, salt, pepper and paprika together for the dredge. Slice the mushrooms, dice the onion and garlic and fiddle with the cork on the wine bottle if you need to. I prefer wine with a screw top. It’s cheap, easy, and I don’t drink enough wine to tell the difference anyway. Now is a good time to start heating a heavy (cast iron would be ideal) skillet on medium high heat with just enough oil to coat the bottom in a thin film. The pan will be ready when a drop of water dances for a second before boiling off. Dip the meat into the egg, dredge it in the flour, and add to the pan. Continue this with as many pieces as will fit in your pan without crowding. Brown, then carefully flip each piece of meat. The less you handle them, the better. When both sides are nicely browned, transfer the meat to a rack or platter placed in a warm oven. Repeat this process with the remaining meat. It’s the vegetables’ turn now- add the onions, mushrooms and garlic to the pan. It will likely be quite hot; stir quickly to prevent burning. You may have to add a touch more oil to the pan at this point. When the onions are starting to get a little color, add the wine and stir rapidly with a wooden spoon. Scrape up the delicious crusty bits found on the bottom; they will add flavor to your sauce. Turn the heat down to medium low and reduce until the liquid starts to visibly thicken. Stir in the cream at the very end. To finish, simply pour the sauce over the schnitzel; you could puree the sauce, but I like it chunky (even if it doesn’t make a pretty picture). Serve with potatoes, spaetzle (recipe coming soon!) or fresh bread. I recommend a simple side salad to freshen and lighten the overall richness of the meal.

I can’t guarantee that your significant other will give you puppy-dog enthusiasm for this dish- but I do think that it’s the perfect tool to convert anyone who dislikes German cuisine. Happy eating, and thanks for reading icon smile Rahmschnitzel

11/10/13

Chai Rice Pudding

PinExt Chai Rice Pudding

rice pudding final product 300x225 Chai Rice Pudding
I have long believed that eating rice pudding is the culinary equivalent to wearing fuzzy slippers. It’s soft, warm and comfortable. There are no allusions to grandeur. This is not something pretentious designed to impress guests. It is what it is, simply and perfectly. Rice pudding means home, family and comfort to me. It makes me happy.

I should clarify at this point that my conception of rice pudding is based on my mother’s (which in turn was based on what her mother made, and so on). It perhaps isn’t a typical rice pudding, made on the stovetop and thickened only with rice; this one is a baked, egg-rich custard. The pudding sets up to the consistency of a panna cotta. It’s smooth, creamy, sweet and rich enough for a great dessert. This rice pudding is also a delightful breakfast- if you can keep your spoon away from it long enough to last until morning.

Since you probably read the title of this post, you may be wondering where the chai comes in. That’s the part that makes this my recipe (and not my mother’s). If you know me, you know that I have a minor (ok, major) love of (read: addiction to) tea. Aside from rice pudding, tea is the most perfectly comforting way to start the day. Why not combine the two? I don’t just use chai-style spices- I use a proper chai blend of black tea. The slight bitterness of the tea, with its earthy and floral qualities balance the sweet creaminess of the pudding itself. After all, what is chai but black tea and spices steeped in sweetened milk? It’s a venerable combination.

The quality of tea you use has a considerable role in determining the overall taste. Chai tea blends vary wildly. Some contain only cardamom and cinnamon in addition to the tea; others use orange peel, cloves, ginger and other spices. The tea leaves themselves should be large and unbroken, preferably loose-leaf. I’ve been using the Classic Chai blend from Davidson’s Tea. It’s quite heavily spiced, but the Assam base has the assertiveness to not be overpowered. You can certainly add other spices to your chai blend if you so desire (I add a little more cinnamon and nutmeg); it is much harder to add good quality tea flavor to a low quality blend. I do not think bagged tea is very good. Three or four bags would work in this recipe, but I do not recommend it. Good quality loose-leaf tea can be less expensive per unit than bags and will taste much, much better.

The recipe:
2 C milk
1 Tbl chai tea blend such as Davidson’s Classic Chai
a pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
a pinch of nutmeg
1/2 C sugar
1 1/2 C cooked chilled white or jasmine rice
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

Start by lightly greasing a lidded oven-safe dish; it should be able to hold at least one quart. I like to serve rice pudding family style- it’s a humble dish for eating with family and does not require the fuss of individual ramekins. Preheat the oven to 325 and add the milk, sugar and spices to a small pot. Add the tea blend in a large infuser or strainer to the milk mixture and cook on medium low heat, whisking or stirring occasionally. Hold it at a simmer for five to six minutes. Add the cooked chilled rice; stir to combine. The temperature should now be lowered enough to prevent the eggs from curdling immediately. Add the eggs and whisk constantly. You don’t need to create froth- you just need to keep everything moving. When the mixture starts to visibly thicken, stop whisking for just a moment. Do you see the rice on the surface of the pudding? If you do, pour the entire mixture into your prepared baking dish. If not, you’ve got some more whisking to do.

rice pudding prep 300x225 Chai Rice Pudding

Rice pudding ready for the oven

Once the pudding is in it’s baking dish, put that inside a larger oven-safe dish (I use a pyrex mixing bowl) partially filled with boiling water. Here’s a public service announcement: Be careful! Don’t boil yourself!

rice pudding water bath 300x225 Chai Rice Pudding

Water bath

Bake the pudding for about 30 minutes. This time will depend on how much you cooked it on the stove, as well as the temperature of your water bath. Using warm tap water can increase the baking time to 50 minutes. When the pudding is done, it should be just barely pulling away from the sides of the dish (but otherwise look moist and creamy) and a knife inserted in the center should come out clean.
Eat it warm or cold, for breakfast, as a snack or for dessert. It’s best enjoyed in a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers or while wrapped in a warm blanket icon smile Chai Rice Pudding

11/6/13

Split Pea Soup: Comfort at a Bargain

PinExt Split Pea Soup: Comfort at a Bargain

split pea soup 300x225 Split Pea Soup: Comfort at a Bargain
Flipping the calendar page a few days ago was perhaps the catalyst for a chain of events that resulted in this post. Growing up as I did in the Northeast, November heralds the inevitable descent into winter. Ice and snow begin their months-long reign. We human beings get out the snow tires, root around in the cellar for the shovel that was hastily stowed last Spring, take the winter coats out of mothballs and generally hunker down for the long freeze.

Although I now live in the desert Southwest, a part of me still wants to prepare for what I feel ought to be the beginning of cold weather. Then I look at the forecast (with highs still in the upper 70′s) and realize that this is ridiculous. I’m suffering from climatological confusion. Since it certainly doesn’t make sense to put on heavy winter clothing or to act on any of the other compulsions I feel, I turn to food. I start craving something warm, hearty, simple and stewed…like split pea soup.

Split pea soup is essentially winter food. Made from dried split peas, root vegetables and cured meat (all items that keep well), it’s everything that is good about peasant food. It’s filling. It’s fairly simple to put together. It’s made from cheap, basic ingredients. It is, in fact, one of the cheapest meals I know of. Seriously- I recently made 8 servings for less than $5. Skeptical? Here’s the breakdown (and the recipe):

1 lb. dry split peas ($0.99)
1-2 lbs. ham, preferably with bone ($2.13, see image)
1 lb. rutabagas or turnips ($0.69)
1 lb. carrots ($0.69)
1-2 large onions (averaging ~$0.45)
salt (negligible cost)

Total cost: $4.95 Cheapskates of the world rejoice!

Ham can be rather pricey; I like to look for ends and scraps. Leftover ham bones with a little meat left on them work excellently as well. Here’s what I used :
Cheap Ham 300x225 Split Pea Soup: Comfort at a Bargain
I started the night before, putting the dry split peas to soak. They must be well covered with water, as they will gradually absorb moisture, thus expanding and becoming potentially uncovered. This would be bad. The world won’t actually end- you’ll just have dry, hard little peas interspersed with your nice soft ones. The next day, chop your vegetables and meat (if it’s off the bone) and add everything except the onions to a slow-cooker or your favorite stew pot. I usually add the water from the pea soak as well. You’ll probably also want to add more water (or stock, it’s your choice) at some point, depending on how thin you like your soup. I like mine thick and hearty (as you can tell from the initial photograph). Keep it at a bare simmer for 4-8 hours. During the last half hour or so, dice the onions and add them. Your spouse/ family/ roommates will thank you for not eating overcooked onions…

Soup’s up! Adjust the salt level if needed, and dinner is served. I like to scoop up my super-thick soup with some fresh bread, or you could just use a spoon. Nutritionally balanced, comforting food for pennies on the dollar- who doesn’t like that? Sometimes I just love being a cheapskate:)

11/2/13

Do I Need to Knead? Or, a Tale of Two Loaves

PinExt Do I Need to Knead? Or, a Tale of Two Loaves
kneaded loaf 300x225 Do I Need to Knead? Or, a Tale of Two Loaves

Nice fresh warm bread:)

I’ve been baking bread a lot lately. Homemade bread is cheap (~$0.20 vs. $4.29 for a decent artisan-style loaf), it produces a delightful aroma (I’d wear fresh bread perfume if it was available) and the freshness simply cannot be beaten. Most recently I’ve been working on developing a recipe for a simple, everyday, adaptable bread. This task required a fair amount of research, as well as trial and error. Among my various rambles into the world of internet recipes I discovered a most unusual (and disconcerting) trend- various ‘no-knead’ breads. This was shocking. An outrage! Blasphemy! I felt like Tevye  in Fiddler on the Roof . Bread must be kneaded! My mother kneaded her bread, as did my grandmother, and her mother, all the way back to the earliest bread-baking antiquity. Confronted with such an alien concept, and married to a scientist, I knew that I had to test my hypothesis- that kneading is essential to good bread. Thus this little experiment was born.

The recipe that I used for both loaves is my current favorite everyday bread. It’s baked in a Dutch oven to increase the thermal mass and improve the evenness of the bake. The lid is left on, which seals in the steam, resulting (very surprisingly) in a crunchier, crispier crust. It’s weird, I know. We’ll just have to chalk it up to the mysteries of the universe until I actually remember to Google it. Although I tried to isolate kneading as the tested variable, I did bake the loaves on different days. There’s only so much bread two people can eat at any given time, and I only have one Dutch oven of the requisite size.

And now the odyssey begins…

1 1/2 C warm (but not hot) water
1 Tbl active dry yeast
1 Tbl sugar
1 Tbl salt
4 C bread flour

With both loaves I first dissolved the sugar and yeast in the warm water. If you’re not sure if your yeast is still alive, letting it sit until it produces bubbles (AKA proofing) will let you know. It should look like this:

Proofing Yeast 300x225 Do I Need to Knead? Or, a Tale of Two Loaves

proofing yeast

While the yeast was starting to happily bubble its way out of hibernation, I combined the remaining ingredients. I next added the yeast-laden water to the dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly. This, finally, was where the two methods started to diverge. Loaf A was taken out of its bowl to be kneaded, by hand, for about 10 minutes (until it bounced back when I poked it). Loaf B was left to sit. I covered both doughs with a damp towel to rise until doubled, about two hours in this case.

By now I was increasingly dubious as to the efficacy of the no-knead method. I contrasted the smooth, taut skin of my kneaded dough to the sticky lumpy mess that was the no-knead dough:

kneaded dough 300x225 Do I Need to Knead? Or, a Tale of Two Loaves

Loaf A: kneaded dough

no knead rise 300x225 Do I Need to Knead? Or, a Tale of Two Loaves

Loaf B: no-knead dough

I admit to my (obvious) bias regarding bread kneading, but seriously? There was no comparison.

I punched down both loaves and transferred them to my 5 quart Dutch oven (their baking vessel) for the final rise. After another two hours, I scored an ‘X’ pattern on the top of each loaf to enhance the oven rise. Loaf A (the kneaded loaf) cut nicely; Loaf B was frustratingly sticky and slightly gooey. Loaf B was still looking unpleasantly lumpy to my eyes as well.

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Loaf B, scored and ready for the oven

kneaded ready for the oven 300x225 Do I Need to Knead? Or, a Tale of Two Loaves

Loaf A, scored and ready for the oven

Both loaves were covered with the lid of the Dutch oven and placed into the pre-heated 425-degree oven for 35 minutes. Finally, the moment of truth:

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Loaf A, cut

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Loaf B, cut

The no-knead loaf was surprisingly good. It didn’t rise quite as nicely and fell apart slightly easier than its kneaded kin, but was otherwise fine. The crust was still crunchy and the center was still moist and spongy. I do hold my ground that no-knead bread is inferior to a properly kneaded loaf; I will, however, concede that it technically works and does produce a viable bread loaf. Of course, you only gain ten minutes by not kneading. It just doesn’t seem worth it to me.

I hope this little venture into empirical baking was as enjoyable and informative to you as it was to me. Happy eating!

10/29/13

Dutch Spice Bread

PinExt Dutch Spice Bread

DSC00709 300x225 Dutch Spice Bread
I love the way my kitchen smells right now. Warm, fragrant with spices, the rich scent of molasses, I sniff the air and know I’m onto something good. My mouth is watering and my husband can be found sidling into the kitchen looking far too innocent.

The origin of our delight lies in a humble foil-lined loaf pan. It’s a quick bread from the Netherlands, called ontbijtkoek in Dutch. Quite a mouthful, isn’t it? Although the literal translation is breakfast bread, I prefer to think of it as the ultimate gingerbread. It’s delicious, fat-free (although there’s enough sugar that I would hesitate to call it truly healthy) and simple to make. The slightly unusual ingredients give it a delightfully unexpected flavor while maintaining the integrity of what we consider to be gingerbread. Although there are many sweeteners in the recipe, the bread itself isn’t at all over sweet. A slice with breakfast is wonderful, as well as for a tasty afternoon snack with tea or coffee. My husband loves dunking it in his coffee.

American taste buds, accustomed as they are to super-sweet desserts, might not appreciate the ontbijtkoek’s subtleties if it’s labeled as such.

Recipe:

2 C flour- rye or AP or any combination of the two. I used 1 C of each.*
3 tsp baking POWDER
Spices: this is partly up to you and your tastes. I used:
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cardamom
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp finely ground black pepper
4 cloves, ground
1 tsp ginger, freshly grated (you could also use dry powdered ginger)
1 healthy pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Add all the above ingredients to a large bowl and mix thoroughly.

*Rye flour has a wonderful earthy flavor that I think adds something special to the bread. If you use all rye it will bake up very dense; adding All-Purpose flour lightens the end result. If you do use rye flour, be careful of what you get. Some rye flours are not finely milled; others are ‘white’ or ‘light’ rye (the bran is removed and the flour is then bleached) which have very little rye flavor. I bought mine from a German bakery; I had to ask if they would sell me some. I don’t know the brand, but here’s what you’re looking for:
DSC00706 300x225 Dutch Spice Bread
The wet ingredients:
1 C milk
½ C brown sugar
¾ C honey, molasses, or any combination of the two. I used ½ C honey and ¼ C molasses.

Add the wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients; stir well to incorporate thoroughly. If you use rye flour you don’t have to worry quite so much about over mixing, since rye has significantly less gluten (the structural protein that can make baked goods tough or chewy) than wheat flour. Don’t worry too much about a few lumps if the majority of the batter is smooth.
By now, you should have something that looks like this:
DSC00704 300x225 Dutch Spice Bread
Line a bread pan with foil. You’ll be covering the bread with foil when it comes out of the oven, so you may as well get a jump on that and save yourself from washing the pan at the same time. Make sure that there’s enough overhang on the foil to cover the bread when it’s done baking. Pour the batter in and bake for ~80 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
DSC007081 225x300 Dutch Spice Bread
Yes, it is hard to wait that long. Unfortunately, it’s about to get harder. The bread needs to be wrapped in foil as soon as it comes out of the oven to trap the moisture inside. As it cools, you can transfer it to a ziplock bag, only to continue waiting… You really have to let it sit for a day. Yes, a whole day. Trust me, it’s worth the wait. Something magical happens as time passes- the spices blend into an incredible melange and any harshness disappears.

Enjoy! You’ve waited long enough:)