Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cheddar oat crackers

From weeks past: cheddar, eggs, oat flour, milk, rolled oats

Staples: butter, AP flour, salt, baking powder

Yesterday, I won an m&m counting contest during an office baby shower. There were 253 m&ms in the baby bottle, and I guessed 242. CHAMPEEN! Although I didn't actually shed any tears as I promised my work bestie I would if I won, I was nearly that excited about it.

Alas, turns out a bag of 253 m&ms is not such a great thing to have in my office; especially after my baby shower meal of 1/2 a bagel, a doughnut, a blueberry chocolate chip muffin, a scoop of of pasta salad, a scoop of broccoli salad, some shrimp, 2 mini ham biscuits, and a chocolate chip cookie. No joke.

Today started off pretty much the same. Bowl of cereal, banana, leftover 1/2 of a cranberry bagel, chocolate chip cookie, 10 handfuls of m&ms . . . the usual. At around 10:30am I started feeling a little ill from all the sweets. Good thing I had these.

Because rather than cease eating altogether, I switched to cheese crackers. Obviously.

These are really good, like uber classy cheez-its. The perfect salty m&m companion. One warning: cook them a lot. Until they're really brown. Closer to the ones on the right of the above pics than the blondies on the left. If you don't, they'll be really delicious until they cool, when they'll become more like stale (but still uber classy) cheez-its.

Needless to say, I haven't exactly needed "dinner" the past two nights. I made up a batch of this last week so that I can eat light salads for dinner on the five few days a week that I have work binges.

Delicious, yes, but not great blog material; I'm thinking the last thing the internets needs is a blog post about a recipe from a blog post about a recipe from a blog post. Motivation to get my s together and start a'cookin? Maybe.

But then what would I do with all my trophy m&ms?

Cheddar oat crackers
Adapted from Food & Wine

1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup AP flour
1/4 cup oat flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt plus more for sprinkling
1 1/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten
egg wash: 1 egg yolk lightly beaten with 1 tbsp milk

Combine oats and milk and set aside for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine flours, baking powder, salt, cheese, and butter in a food processor and pulse to form a coarse meal. Add beaten egg to oat/milk mixture. Add mixture to food processor, and pulse until a dough ball forms. Turn ball out onto a piece of plastic wrap, and press into a 1 inch thick disk. Wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375. Remove 1/2 of dough disk from the fridge, and roll into a 1/8 inch thick round on a lightly flour surface. Cut into desired shapes (I did 1/2 cracker-sized pieces) using a sharp knife or pizza cutter. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with salt. Cook until dark golden brown, about 15-18 minutes. Remove to racks and let cool.

This week (1/31)

- 2 avocados
- 2 green bell peppers
- baby bok choi
- 2 pears
- ginger
- milk
- almonds
- cashews
- dried blueberries
- dried cranberries
- cheddar cheese
- feta cheese
- quattro formaggio shredded cheese blend (Trader Joe's brand)
- kalamata olives
- langostino tails

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Butternut squash gratin

From this week: butternut squash

From weeks past: milk, shallot, fontina, goat cheese

Staples: salt, pepper, garlic

I'm a little bit of a food know-it-all. Okay, not just a little, a lot; I'm a lot of a food know-it-all. I am threatened by others in my life that cook, I hate it when I'm not the go-to person for people's food-related questions, I boss others (mainly Alex) when they have the audacity to try to cook for or with me, and I'm constantly waiting for new Food Network personalities to falter. "You didn't go to culinary school, did you?" I say as I change the channel.

But, duh, I didn't go to culinary school! And, the truth is, I really don't know much of anything. Yes, I am a sponge for anything food-related. I listen, watch, read, and (unfortunately) eat anything I can get my hands on. But my world is pretty small. I've never roasted a chicken; I don't know how to make French sauces; my knife skills are limited to chop, dice, and mince. And yet, I maintain that I am the queen of all home cooks.

An unhappy consequence of my dichotomously expansive confidence and paltry experience is that I sometimes come home from the grocery store with an ingredient I have no idea how to tackle. I'll have read about it, tasted it in a restaurant, and/or watched my Food Network faves cook it, and I'm certain that I love it and will make magic with it, but then I get home and I have no idea what to do with it.

That's what happened with this.

A stinkin' butternut squash. That's how much of a culinary simpleton I am; I've never even cooked a butternut squash. The recipe was actually the least of my worries. With all the reading/watching/eating I do, I'm familiar with the taste of butternut squash and flavors it goes well with. It was (obvi) the peeling that was a problem. I did some googling and tried various suggestions (hence the 4 peeling implements), but I can't say I'd recommend any of them. In the end, I got the thing peeled, and I have bloody knuckles to show for it.

But let me tell you, it really was worth the pain. Butternut squash is as awesome as I'd convinced myself it was, and its sweetness paired SO WELL with the rich shallot, the salty, melty, crusty fontina, and the tangy, creamy goat cheese. Thus, I'm as awesome as I'd convinced myself I was.

And so, in conclusion, I am a know-it-all... but only because I actually know it all.

Butternut squash gratin
Serves 4 as a side, 2-3 as a main

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1 thimble-sized shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 cup shredded fontina cheese
3/4 cup 1% milk
2 oz goat cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Toss together squash, shallot, garlic, salt, pepper, and half of fontina cheese, and place in an even layer in an 8x8" casserole dish. Pour milk over squash mixture and press squash down with the back of a spoon. Bake for an hour, pressing squash down every 20 minutes. After an hour, top with remaining fontina and crumble goat cheese over it. Return to oven and bake for 20 more minutes, or until brown and bubbly. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

This week (1/24)

Sorry for the delay! I'm not feeling super into cooking this week (huh?) and still have leftovers from last week in the freezer, so it was a light grocery trip.

- broccoli
- butternut squash
- cucumber
- clementines
- whole wheat fettucine
- rice krispies
- chocolate chips

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chickpea burgers

From this week: bell pepper, carrots, oat flour, cheddar cheese, avocado, eggs, light wheat hamburger buns

From weeks past: chickpeas

Staples: onion, garlic, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, cayenne, salt, ketchup

A passion for veggie burgers was one of my greatest vegetarian-era discoveries. I've never really liked hamburgers. At fast food restaurants, it was always chicken nugs or a chicken sandwich (I'm certain they serve Roy Rogers' gold rush chicken sandwiches in heaven). Maybe I've never had a really good hamburger, but I always think the burgers themselves are pretty flavorless, and the texture of the meat doesn't really do anything me.

Veggie burgers, on the other hand, are tender and spice-packed patties of deliciousness. Combining one with burger accoutrement only enhances the burger-eating experience for me. (It is for this reason that I'm more than slightly obsessed with Red Robin; they let you sub a Boca burger on any of their bajillions of burger combos. Awesome.)

I'd never made veggie burgers before this, and I pretty much did it blind. Not really thinking, I let the food processor rip until I'd pureed them into a veritable mush. Not appetizing. When I formed the sticky, gooshy patties, I was sure I was bound for disaster. But then I let them sit in the fridge for a while, and the oat flour (yeah, oat flour!) seemed to work its magic. They were already firmer and smoother when I took them out of the fridge, and, when cooked, they were totally veggie burger-like.

I didn't go all out with the burger I ate last night; just cheese and ketchup. At lunch today, I topped one with avocado -- a great addition. Because of the sort of Mediterranean feel of the chickpeas, I think these would be great topped with tzatziki, maybe in a pita pocket. Hey, I've got 4 of these puppies left in the freezer, and they're super easy to make (and freeze and reheat). The possibilities are endless.

Chickpea burgers
Makes 6 patties

2 cups canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 egg
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup oat flour

Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add carrot, onion, and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Set aside and let cool. Process cooled veggie mixture, 1.5 cups chickpeas, egg, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, cayenne, and salt in food processor until smooth. Remove mixture to a bowl. Pulse remaining chickpeas in the processor just until coarsely chopped. Stir the chopped chickpeas and oat flour into the pureed mixture. Form 3 inch patties (they will be sticky), place on silpat- or wax paper-covered baking sheet, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight. When ready to cook, heat remaining oil in a skillet over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, place patties in the skillet and cook until bottom side is brown, about 5 minutes. Flip and cook until other side is brown, about 3 minutes. Patties can be frozen and reheated in the microwave.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gnocchi with red pepper cream sauce

Staples: AP flour, salt

I first went to Italy when I was 16 on a family vacation. We spent three or four nights in Rome, and we went to the same restaurant for every dinner. Stupid Americans, I'm sure, but it didn't matter; the service was great, we got tons of free food, and it was all delicious. Most importantly, it was there that I had my first encounter with gnocchi. Little potato pillows of heaven, they were, and it was love at first bite. I ordered them every night.

When I decided to do a summer study abroad in Italy, I'm 99% positive it was that dish alone that made me choose Rome over the more popular Florence trip. Oh, I said it was that I wanted to be in a big city and loved the ancient history and blah blah blah, but really, I'm pretty sure it was the gnocchi.

I ate like a queen for 6 weeks. Youngest child that I am, I proclaimed a dish "mine" at each restaurant we frequented (and frequent, we did. I don't think we went anywhere just once): the arugula salad with bresaola, honey, and parmigiano-reggiano at the pretty, five-table ristorante a block away from our market; the pizza bianca at the little shop around the corner from the American University of Rome; the bread with ricotta salata and fig jam at the deli near the Spanish steps; the pizza diavola at the train-themed (?) trattoria across the street from our apartment (which I incessantly referred to as "the neighborhood joint" and forced my roommates to enjoy at least weekly); etc.

That's me at the deli with ricotta salata!

Then, all of a sudden, it was time to go home, and I hadn't been back to the restaurant from my family trip. I walked by just to make sure it was still there, but I could never convince my friends to go. (I'm going to blame it on the high prices, but more likely it was because I had exhausted them with my pleas for dinner at the neighborhood joint.)

Fortunately, I was still able to get my fill of gnocchi. I thought I didn't like pesto; then I had it fresh. . . on gnocchi. . . in Riomaggiore - one of the five towns in Cinque Terre, in the Liguria region, which is famous for its pesto. . . sigh. Provoked by my oohs and aahs, one of my Italian professors proclaimed that she knew how to MAKE gnocchi and would teach us in our tiny European kitchen. Aside from the homemade gnocchi's deliciousness, all I really remember from that experience was how easy it was.

Well, let me tell you, it's not.

It is really labor-intensive and kind of stressful, especially when you study recipes beforehand that all scream "potato ricer needed!" and warn against overworking and gumminess. I knew that my teensy tiny Italian kitchen did NOT come complete with a potato ricer, so I forged ahead with a fork, mashing the potatoes as little as possible and being careful to add only enough flour to bring the dough together.

But as I felt the lumps in my gnocchi ropes, it all came flooding back. I tried to make these bitches for my family when I got back that summer, and it was a disaster. In fact, I remembered that after rolling and cutting all the individual gnocchi, I put one in the pot and it disintegrated, and I was forced to throw all the gnocchi back into a bowl and add more flour. Oy.

Lumps aside, though, they came out pretty good. I don't think they'd win any awards, but they're pretty light and soft, and I liked their chew (I'm not going to go as far as to say that they weren't gummy, but it didn't bother me). With the sauce and the cheese, they were a pretty satisfying meal.

At the very least, they were a good catalyst for some fun reminiscing. . . only now, all I want is dinner at the neighborhood joint.

Gnocchi with red pepper cream sauce
Serves 3

1 lb russet potatoes
2/3-1 cup AP flour
1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup milk

Prepare gnocchi: Wash potatoes and prick all over. Microwave for about 10 minute or until a knife goes through with no resistance. While still hot, peel the potatoes (be careful not to burn your fingers) and mash them with a fork, fluffing as you go along. Add salt and 2/3 cup flour. Continue adding flour, a little at a time until the dough can be formed into a ball. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes. Pinch off a handful and roll into a 1/2 in diameter rope. Cut 1/2 inch long pieces. Roll pieces over the back of the tines of a fork to make ridges (optional). Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and set aside.* Put about a quart of salted water on to boil.

Make sauce: Mix roasted red pepper and sundried tomato sauce and milk together in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until gnocchi are ready.

Cook gnocchi: When water boils, add 5-10 gnocchi. One minute after gnocchi rise to the top of the water, remove and place in the sauce. Continue in batches until all gnocchi is cooked and sauced. Divide into three serving dishes and top with cheese (I used fontina but parmesan would be great).

* At this point, the gnocchi can be frozen for later. Place gnocchi in a single layer on a plate or cookie sheet and freeze, then move to a Ziploc bag. Cook from frozen.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Light wheat hamburger buns

From this week: eggs

From weeks past: milk, goat cheese

Staples: whole wheat flour, AP flour, butter, salt, yeast, honey, oil

My aunt baked homemade graham crackers 15 years ago, and my dad (her big brother) still teases her about it. To him - a non-cooker of anything but rare steak - making something that you can easily buy in a box is nuts. And for most of my childhood, I agreed.

Then, in college, I started really getting into cooking. And then, in law school, I started really getting into eating healthy and local and whole food-y. Suddenly, it didn't seem so crazy to make basics from scratch. It's fun, things come out tastier, and you have total control (a concept I enthusiastically appreciate) over what goes into your food.

Only in the past year have I really embraced this philosophy and started baking my own bread. Mostly, I haven't been very successful. My sorry attempts at whole wheat bread have been dense and rock-like. These hamburger buns are a different story, entirely. Light, soft, moist, and sweet, they are SERIOUSLY the best rolls I've ever had. Maybe the best things I've ever made. Certainly better than anything store bought. And they're the perfect canvas for sandwiches and the excitement I have planned for later in the week (stay tuned!).

Tonight I had one (after I'd already "tried" two or three) with scrambled eggs and goat cheese inside.

I don't think I ever got to try my aunt's graham crackers, but maybe if I had, I would've come around sooner. My mom certainly did. She makes her own preserves, pickles, crackers, granola, and yogurt (this one I still find slightly crazy), amongst other things. And, you know what? I don't hear my dad doing a whole lot of teasing over his daily bowl of homemade granola- and preserve-topped yogurt.

Light wheat hamburger buns
Makes 26-30 buns

- 1 cup milk
- 3/4 cup water
- 2 packages (4.5 tsp) active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled, plus 2 tbsp, melted and cooled
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
- 2 2/3 cups AP flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 tbsp oil

Heat milk and water together in the microwave until warm, about one minute (technically I think it's to 110 degrees, but I think of it as the temperature of a warm bath). Mix with yeast in a large bowl and let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in honey, 1/4 cup butter, salt, and whole wheat flour. Stir in AP flour a little at a time, stopping when the dough pulls away from the sides and wants to form a ball. Dump onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes.

Pour oil into a clean large bowl. Turn dough ball in the oil and place in the bowl. Cover with a damp towel and leave in a warmish place until double in size, about 1 hour. Punch (literally) dough down, re-cover, and leave in warm place until doubled again, about 30 minutes.

Roll dough out into 1/2 inch thick round on a lightly flowered surface. Brush two cookie sheets with some of the 2 tbsp melted butter. Using a floured 3 inch cookie cutter (or the mouth of a glass), cut rounds and place on buttered cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. Brush the tops of the buns with remaining butter. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and place in a warmish place until puffed, about 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, put an oven rack in the top 1/3 of the oven and another in the bottom 1/3 and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake with one cookie sheet on each rack for 5 minutes, then switch and bake for 3 more minutes. The buns should sound hollow when tapped. Immediately remove to a cooling rack.

The buns can be frozen in a large ziploc bag. When ready to eat, bake from frozen for 8-10 minutes, or until buns sound hollow again, in a 400 degree oven.