Archive for November, 2008

Make Your Own Crackers

November 20, 2008

Does it seem strange that a vegetarian loves Ina Garten? She of the Barefoot Contessa and all things abundant and meaty? There is something about her style, the simplicity of the recipes that somehow yield incredibly full flavors, the generosity of her table. I find her irristable. I have four of her cookbooks, including her newest one, and I use them surprisingly frequently. Her roasted tomato soup is a favorite of my clients and the Outrageous Brownies are the best around.

Here may be another favorite. I love making crackers because they are somewhat unexpected. We here in the States are used to having almost an entire supermarket aisle of choices when it comes to crackers. Some of them are quite good but most are basically cardboard with salt. Even the good ones are really just a vehicle for cheese. But not these. These delicious and incredibly easy crackers are stars in their own right. I made them to go along with a hearty soup and a Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette (from the same Ina cookbook).

The beauty of this kind of cracker is that the dough can be made well in advance and either refrigerated (for up to 4 days!) or frozen for a month at least. As I was making these yesterday, I kicked myself for not doubling or even tripling the recipe so I could have crackers at my fingertips thoughout the holidays.

Parmesan and Thyme Crackers
Adapted from
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
Makes about 24 crackers

I made these crackers into squares instead of circles. Do yourself a favor and buy the pre-ground (not grated!) Parmesan cheese.

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 oz. grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)

1 tsp. minced thyme leaves

tsp. kosher salt
tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup flour

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter for 1 minute. With the mixer on low speed, add the Parmesan, thyme, salt, and pepper and combine. With the mixer still on low, add the flour and combine untl the mixture is in large crumbles, about 1 minute. If the dough is too dry, add 1 tsp. water.

Dump the dough onto a floured board, press it into a ball, and roll into a 9 inch log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 days.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the log into 3/8 inch rounds with a small, sharp knife and place them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 22 minutes, until very lightly browned. Rotate the pan once during baking. Cool and serve at room temperature.

Become a Convert

November 19, 2008

Any article in a food magazine or post out in the blogosphere about brussels sprouts will start with some kind of encouragement. “You may think you don’t like brussels sprouts,” they will tell you, “But let me convince you to change your mind.”

I was totally one of those people. I like almost every single vegetable out there, but didn’t like those little cabbages. Because they aren’t really a “go to” vegetable for most people, I actually hadn’t really eaten them that many times. My mom never made them (probably because she knew we wouldn’t eat them), friends never made them, I certainly never made them. The one time I can recall eating them in recent memory was at a friend’s for Sunday dinner and I really hated the few bites I was able to choke down. They were whole and undercooked so chalky texture and foul flavor. I firmly put them in my dislike category.

Then, for some reason, last year I decided to make them for Thanksgiving. Maybe it was the article in Bon Appetit, maybe it was the addition of caramelized shallots, maybe it was the fact that the brussels sprouts themselves are thinly sliced instead of whole. I don’t know – but I’m glad I branched out. These are, really truly, delicious. And yes, they will convert brussels sprouts haters – they converted my husband and he really holds on to his food aversions. My brother Michael (one of those rare individuals who love brussels sprouts) points out that anything with a bunch of butter in it tastes good, but I beg to differ. I made these yesterday to go with Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie and dialed the amount of butter way down and then were still incredibly tasty. Trust me. They will be on our table next Thursday.

Brussels Sprout Hash with Caramelized Shallots
Adapted from
Bon Appetit Magazine
Serves 8

I made some changes here. I cut the amount of butter in half and upped the shallots. I also changed the method a bit. Be sure to use a big enough pan so that the sprouts get browned sufficiently. You can use a food processor to slice the sprouts – that is, if your baby didn’t abscond with the feed tube pusher.

3 tbsp. butter, divided
lb. shallots, thinly sliced
Coarse kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

4 tsp. sugar

1/2 lb. brussels sprouts, trimmed
Olive oil

1/2 cup water

Halve brussels sprouts lengthwise. Cut lengthwise into thin slices. Set aside.

Melt 2 tbsp. butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots; sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and pepper. Saute until golden, about 10 minutes. Add vinegar and sugar. Stir until brown and glazed, about 3 minutes. Scrape onto a plate and reserve. Wipe out skillet carefully with a paper towel.

Place skillet back over burner. Increase heat to medium-high. Add enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom. Add sprouts; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute until brown at the edges, about 6 minutes. Add 1/4 cup water and 1 tbsp. butter. Saute until the water evaporates and sprouts are tender, adding more water if necessary. Add shallots. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chocolate Yum

Given a choice between sweet and savory, I will always choose savory. Friends ask me how I can keep baked goods in my house and my answer is simply that I am not all that tempted by them. Of course, I would love to have a cookie or brownie now and then, but I resist because I can. If there are pretzels, popcorn, chips, or even day-old french fries around however, it’s all over for me. I made mashed potatoes today to put on top of a vegetarian Shepherd’s pie and I caught myself licking the bowl much as someone else would do with cookie batter.

That being said, I do love my chocolate. And I really love chocolate and caramel together. And I really love toffee. When I saw that Smitten Kitchen made these cookies – I knew I had my treat for this week. I was unable to resist these and you won’t be able to either. They are barely a cookie – almost no butter or flour. They are held together by eggs and chocolate, and yumminess – much like a flourless chocolate cake. I usually think nuts in cookies are a bad thing (except in these), but the walnuts added great texture and flavor.

A long time ago, I read that it is unnecessary to butter your cookie sheets when making cookies. There is so much butter in most recipes that the dough itself acts as it’s own Silpat. I always follow that advice (one less step in the prep), but in this case – because there is only half a stick of butter, I would either grease them or use parchment paper, or a Silpat.

Let’s talk about melting chocolate. You will often see a double boiler in recipes. A true double boiler is two pots that are roughly the same size so one can fit inside the other. Water is put in the bottom pot and things that can burn easily, like chocolate, are put in the top. You can easily re-create the effect by placing a heat-proof bowl in a pot with just a little water. Be sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water and also keep the water at a simmer instead of a boil. This will prevent too much steam from coming out of the pot and potentially ruining the chocolate. Similarly, when you remove the bowl from the pot, have a towel ready and immediately wipe the bottom of the bowl to, again, keep steam from the chocolate.

Giant Chocolate-Toffee Cookies
Adapted from
Bon Appetit Magazine
Makes about 18

Instead of buying individual toffee bars, I bought an 8 oz. package of Heath baking bits. This saved a little work, but the bits are very small. If you want larger pieces of toffee in your cookies, I would buy the individual bars called for below and chop them.

1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder

tsp. salt
1 lb. bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cups (packed) light brown sugar
4 large eggs

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

5 1.4 oz. chocolate Heath or Skor bars, coarsely chopped

1 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl; whisk to blend. Stir chocolate and butter in top of a double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Cool mixture to lukewarm.

Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in bowl until thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in chocolate mixture and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture, then toffee and nuts. Chill batter until firm, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto sheets, spacing 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake just until tops are dry and cracked but cookies are still soft to touch, about 15 minutes. Cool on sheets. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Raising Vegetarian Kids

November 15, 2008

A while ago, a fellow blogger left a comment asking whether we are raising our children vegetarian and if so, how that is going. Because today is Saturday and I am not cooking anything so I have no photos or exciting recipes to share, I thought I would answer this question.

Before I do, let me say that I am no poster child for the vegetarian movement. I have no soapbox to stand on. It is not, and has never been, my goal to “convert” anyone. Veg is how I eat and how you eat is how you eat. My own husband is a carnivore and I have no problem with that. He eats vegetarian at home and eats meat when we are out. I am interested in giving people ideas of wonderful, healthy and delicious food that is vegetarian, not in telling people that something they choose to eat is bad.

So for now, my kids are vegetarian because that is how I cook in our home. Aside from a couple bits of charcuterie here and there, some salmon, and the turkeys that are on their way, meat doesn’t come in my house. I will continue to cook vegetarian for them until they leave for college. If, somewhere along the way, they decide that they want to have a hamburger at a friend’s house or order meat in a restaurant, I will be fine with that. I believe diet, like religion, is a personal matter. You can influence your children but not decide for them. For now, my older son knows not to ask for a bite of Daddy’s chicken sandwich and sort of understands why his dish of noodles at school doesn’t have meatballs. My younger son just eats what is put on his highchair tray – or launches it over the edge.

Until that day, I do what all moms do – feed my kids the best I can. I am fortunate that both of them are pretty good eaters. My older son is pretty adventurous and has liked olives, salad, fresh rolls with peanut sauce, etc. from about age 1. My younger son eats a lot of more quantity but is a little pickier and says “no” more. But he also likes olives and pickled ginger and vegetarian sushi. So really, I have no complaints.

Although I make fairly gourmet food for my clients, my kids eat a lot of cheese quesadillas and fake chicken nuggets. My husband comes home late enough that we don’t eat as a family so I feed them something quick first. I look at their food intake over a week rather than what they have eaten in a given day. Like most moms I know, I just try and make sure that they have had some protein, some dairy (neither drink milk), some whole grains, and some fruits and vegetables. I don’t stress too much about what each meal contains. I figure it all balances out. Both of my boys have been incredibly healthy (knock on wood), so I think I’m doing something right.

Starting Early

November 14, 2008

Remember when I said I wasn’t going to bully you into making something? Well, in that post I strongly suggested. In this post, I’m going to have to insist. You have to make this bread for Thanksgiving.

Yes, I said the T-word. Friends, Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away and, at least at my house, it is never too soon to start preparing. Seeing as this is a non-client cooking day for me, I am going to spend some time finalizing my menu and start the shopping list.

Thanksgiving is huge this year because the torch has officially been passed. Ever since I was a baby, my mom has hosted Thanksgiving. The guest list more or less stayed the same, the menu more or less stayed the same and very occasionally the setting shifted as we moved a couple of times. Certain traditions were established. Every year my mom worried that the power was going to go out (it did one year). Every year my brother Michael and my parents’ friend Tom whipped the cream in a copper bowl with a whisk (because of the year the power went out – no Kitchen Aid). Every year Tom said the turkey was dry (it never was). And so on and so on.

Last year my mom decided she was done with making Thanksgiving dinner and gave me the gift of creating new traditions in our home. Already things are going to be different. We are having many more people (21 adults, at least 8 children) and we are going to – you might want to sit down for this – deep fry a turkey. Yes, – not one but two turkeys are going to cross the threshold of my vegetarian home. Here is how I see it. Of the 21 adults coming, only 3 are vegetarian. Of the 18 carnivores, I know that at least half of them LOVE turkey. This is not a group that eats turkey because it’s what you are supposed to do, they eat it because they love it. How can I, someone who loves to feed people, deny them the thing that they love?

The answer is I can’t. So, turkey it is. After talking to some friends who have always done the deep-fried thing, Randy has it in his head that we have to deep fry. Because we are having so many people, I figure we should have two turkeys anyway, so we will roast one and deep fry the other. People can decide which one they like best. Here is the catch – aside from carrying them home from the grocery store, my goal is to not touch the turkeys at all. Randy assures me he has the deep frying one and Deb (who has moved – sob!), promised she would come help me with the other one. Other invited guests have offered to come help as well (I think they are nervous that I am going to try and slip a Tofurkey by them) so I think I can get away with not touching any bird.

I digress. Back to my bullying ways. I have been making this bread for Thanksgiving for about 15 years. In my family, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it. If you are nervous about making bread, this is a great one to start with because it is extremely forgiving and easy to work with. It also looks beautiful and has the perfect sweetness to balance what is a very savory meal. If that isn’t enough to convince you, it can be made up to 2 weeks in advance and stored in the freezer. I take it out the morning of and let it thaw, still wrapped, at room temperature.

Let’s talk about bread for a minute. I make mine in a Kitchen Aid mixer using first the regular blade and switching to the dough hook when it is time to knead. Of course, people have been making bread for millenia without this tool, so don’t let not having a stand mixer stop you from trying it. One of the most helpful pieces of advice I have ever read came from Mollie Katzen in her Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook. She said that when dough has been kneaded enough – either by hand or machine – it should feel like your ear lobe.

I’m sending this to Wild Yeast’s weekly Yeastspotting showcase.

Cranberry-Walnut Braid

Adapted from
Bon Appetit Magazine
Makes 1 Loaf

I have had trouble finding orange extract so I use Simply Organic’s Orange Flavor which is essentially orange flavored oil.

3 cups (or more) bread flour
cup sugar
2 envelopes quick-rising yeast

1/2 tsp. salt
cup buttermilk
2 large eggs

2 tbsp. (
1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tbsp. orange extract
cup (about) hot water (120-130 degrees F)
1 cup dried cranberries

cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 large egg, beaten to blend (for glaze)

Stir 3 cups flour, the sugar, yeast and salt in large bowl to blend. Add buttermilk, 2 eggs, melted butter and orange extract and stir vigorously until well blended. Gradually stir in enough hot water to form soft, slightly sticky dough. Transfer dough to floured work surface. Knead dough until smooth and slightly tacky but not sticky, adding more flour if necessary, about 7 minutes. Knead in dried cranberries 1/3 cup at a time; then knead in walnuts. Form dough into ball.

Oil large bowl. Add dough to bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

Lightly oil large heavy baking sheet (or line with parchment paper). Punch down dough. Turn dough out onto floured surface. Divide dough into 4 equal pieces; then divide 1 piece of dough into 3 equal pieces and reserve. Using palms of hands, roll out each of remaining 3 large pieces on work surface to 13-inch long ropes. Braid ropes together. Tuck ends under and pinch together. Transfer braid to prepared baking sheet. Roll out each of the reserved 3 small dough pieces to 10-inch long ropes. Braid ropes together. Tuck ends under and pinch together. Brush large braid with some of egg glaze. Place small braid atop center of large braid. Brush small braid with some of egg glaze. Let rise uncovered in warm area until almost doubled in volume, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Brush loaf again with egg glaze. Bake until loaf is deep golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about 45 minutes. Transfer loaf to rack and cool at least 45 minutes before slicing. (Can be made ahead. Cool completely. Wrap tightly in foil and a plastic bag and freeze for up to 2 weeks. Thaw at room temperature.)

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