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Monday, March 29, 2010

Ode on a Grecian Yogurt

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all 
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
 The title is admittedly a bad pun. In case you are unfamiliar with it, the title comes from John Keats classic poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn," and the final lines are what's quoted above. Keats is one of the poets I study and seeing as I'm waist deep in reading and writing despite it being my spring break, I thought I'd share it with you. He's not one of my personal favorites, nor is the poem one of my favorites to study of his poems. The poem's simple language and complex imagery makes it enjoyable to read and momentarily get lost in. The decades of people writing about it  make it a pain to write about though.

What inspired the post was not Keats though, so maybe I should keep on topic. Initially at least.What did inspire this post was a wonderful surprise comment from Stonyfield offering a few coupons to sample some of their Oikos Greek Yogurt. Now, dairy products in general are one of my weaknesses. I don't know what I would do if I suddenly awoke with a dairy allergy. Granted, I love scones and breakfast pastries, but more often than not I  prefer some greek yogurt and a little bit of fruit to go with my morning coffee. Peaches or blueberries when they're in season especially.

Anyway, the point being that I was quite ecstatic when the coupons to try them came in the mail. Not only was it the first free sample we received, but it was for something that I love on top of that. Almost like getting paid to sit around and read poetry. More like to try in whatever way possible to motivate students to do so, but whatever. Most of you are probably familiar with Stonyfield, and if you watched Food Inc., you may have seen that they are one of the larger companies that support farm's with better environmental and health practices.On top of that, they make some tasty greek yogurt. I wanted to try out a few different approaches as I didn't figure you would be all to excited to see my routine breakfast up for your perusal.

 One of the first things I thought about using the yogurt for though was in an ice cream. The weather has been nice here lately and I've had amazing success using greek yogurt for ice cream before in a Peach Ice Cream and a Bacon Ice Cream. The creaminess of the yogurt carries through to make an intensely smooth and rich frozen treat. So I pull the ice cream freezer out to get it ready and it is inoperable. Alas. "Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter, therefore; ye soft pipes play on."

Still wanting to use it some sort of tangy dessert application, Daniel mentioned he was in the mood to make a carrot cake. PERFECT. "How about a carrot cake with a greek yogurt topping" I suggest. He grimaces, but concedes. The carrot cake recipe we used came from was adapted from Michael Richard's Happy in the Kitchen, and was originally designed to help compose a carrot-cake-orange-sauce-cocoa-puff-ice-cream concoction. Intense, I know, and maybe for another day when we aren't starting at 11:30. Perhaps because it was designed to be go into ice cream, or perhaps because of the late hour we initially made the cake, it was quite crumbly, but super moist and delicious nonetheless. The orange-carrot caramel sauce made for quite a sweet cake, and the thin layer of greek yogurt across the top offset sweetness perfectly and let you really enjoy the subtly of the carrot and burst of ginger and spices. As soon as our ice cream maker is repaired, there will be a round two in the immediate future for this concoction.

Tangy Carrot Cake with Greek Yogurt Topping 
Carrot Cake
1-1/2 cups almond flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup maple syrup
8 tbsp melted butter (unsalted)
2 large eggs
2 tsp grated ginger
2 cups finely grated peeled carrots
1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans
 1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9x13 cake pan. Line bottom with parchment paper. Butter paper and flour pan
2. Combine almond meal, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. In another bowl, mix maple syrup, butter, and eggs until well combined. Combine wet and dry ingredients, mix until combined. Add ginger and carrots. Pour into prepared pan.
3. Sprinkle the pecans on top. Bake approx 25 minutes until brown on top and cake tester comes out clean. Transfer to cooling rack and let cool completely. Remove from pan and chill completely. 

Orange Carrot Caramel Sauce
 1 cup sugar
2 tbsp water
1 cup pureed carrots
1 cup fresh orange juice (strained)
1. Stir sugar and water in medium heavy saucepan to moisten. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce and simmer without stirring for about 10 minutes or until amber in color. Have pastry brush with water on hand to remove any sugar that crystallizes.
2.Meanwhile, combine carrot juice and orange juice in saucepan and heat until warm. When caramel is ready, remove from heat and stir in juice gradually. The caramel will bubble, so be careful Return to heat and simmer 20-30 minutes until reduced. Once done, refrigerate in a covered container. 
To assemble:
Remove cake and sauce from refrigerator. Place on serving plate. Carefully spread caramel mixture on top of cake. Allow to rest for a few moments. Spread about one cup Oikos Vanilla Greek Yogurt in a thin layer on top (we used one 5.3 oz container and one 4 oz container). Cut, serve, and enjoy!

For a slightly more savory option, I decided to make a chilled corn soup. In case I haven't mentioned it yet, I can't wait for the farmer's markets to get here and am trying to clean out the few frozen vegetables we have to fill the void while we wait. Although initially I planned to do a southwest option, during an episode of procrastination I came across a creamy lemon grass and corn soup in an old issue of one of our food magazines and opted for it instead. The recipe is quite simple with a delicate subtle sweet corn taste that will be infinitely improved with fresh ears of corn

Lemongrass & Corn Soup
3 cups frozen corn kernels
1 medium shallot, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup vegetable stock
1 small stalk lemon grass, root ends cleaned and outer leaves discarded
1/4 tsp ginger
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 tbsp plain greek yogurt
1/2 tbsp lemon grass leaves chopped finely
fresh cilantro to garnish (optional)
1. Thaw corn in fridge. Toss with 1 tbsp olive oil and a dash each (1/8 tsp) salt and pepper. Heat heavy saucepan or large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, add corn, stirring quickly. 1-2 minutes. Add shallot and continue to saute until shallots are softened. Add vegetable stock, lemongrass and ginger. Simmer 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat. Discard lemon grass. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool slightly. Using blender, carefully puree soup to desired consistency. If desired, thin with water. Season with salt and pepper. Allow to chill for at least one hour.
2. Before serving, combine greek yogurt and lemongrass. Divide soup between cups or bowls and top with yogurt and cilantro (if desired).
The original recipe I looked at suggested that you press the purred liquid through a sieve to remove any solids from the corn. Daniel's not a big fan of purees that lack no texture for some reason, so I left them for the additional texture and the slightly more chowdery feel. The soup is everything a summer soup should be. Sweet, simple, and refreshing.

For a full version of the poem, please feel free to go here.

On second thought, that's not all! After the response Daniel had for his sourdough on the last post, we've decided it's time to host OUR VERY FIRST GIVEAWAY!!!

Although the process of making a sourdough starter is extremely rewarding, it's rather time and space consuming. After the first few weeks of a mere bowl on the counter, the containers multiply and subdivide, taking up most of very sparse kitchen space. The particular recipe we used made several containers, and because you continually replenish it once you have some ready, there's little need (at least for us) to have more than one or two. Knowing that some of you may be in the same boat we are, we thought some of you may like the chance to win a container of sourdough starter (as well as instructions as to how to keep it alive of course). The rules will be pretty simple, just become a follower of the blog and/or leave a comment on the post saying you'd like to be entered to win. On Thursday, we'll close the contest, run the participants through a random generator, and pick a winner! Either Thursday night or Friday. We'll contact the winner ASAP and announce it on the blog. That's it! That's almost a month of labor handed over to you!

Good luck and hope you enjoy!

Congratulations to Christine at Fresh Local and Best!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sourdough Obsession

I must admit that I am infatuated with sourdough and everything that has to do with it at the moment- from the simple biga so revered by the Italians to the French sourdough with all its simple glory. The biga as delightful and fun as it is to say, is not what I want to revel in during this aside. I have yet to delve into the realm known as German rye bread and there are a multitude of options when it comes to the formulas of white flour to rye, wheat flour to rye,  and even a combination of the three. I am still utilizing a grape sourdough starter from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen that has been working splendidly, but there are apple sourdoughs, strictly bread and water sourdoughs, and those unknown to me yet that may be experimented with down the road.

The first sourdough I tried with my starter is very similar to the recipe in Modern Vegetarian Kitchen which produced two marvelous baguettes with astounding hole patterns. Rather time consuming, but who would not rather be tinkering in the kitchen than thinking about work, bills, etc. The recipe produced an amazing baguette, fitting of Parisian riverside picnics.

French Country Sourdough

1 1/2 C white sourdough starter
3 C lukewarm nochlorinated water
2 T amber honey
6 C unbleached white bread flour
1 C whole wheat bread flour
3 tsp fine salt
cornmeal for mealing baking stone

Combine water, starter, and honey and stir until starter is dissolved. Add the flours and mix until roughly incorporated and let stand 5 minutes.

Scoop sough onto clean floured work surface and knead for at least 10 minutes then let rest for 15 minutes.

Uncover ball and sprinkle salt onto work surface kneading into the ball for at least 5 minutes. Avoid using excess flour, instead flouring hands to prevent ball absorbing too much flour.
Place into an oiled bowl and coat ball with oil covering to let rise 4-6 hours until tripled in volume.

Punch down and cover ball in bowl for 8-12 hours in refrigerator.

Remove from fridge and let dough come to room temperature for 2-3 hours. Divide into two balls and roll balls into torpedo shapes with seam on bottom. Set torpedoes on floured surface sifting a thin sprinkle of flour on top and let rise at room temperature for 1 hour. Meanwhile preheat baking stone in oven to 500 degrees.

Score loaves lengthwise, place an ovenproof bowl of cold water in oven to increase initial spring, meal baking stone, and place torpedoes on mealed area. Turn oven to 450 degrees and bake approximately 25 minutes or until loaves have a hollow sound like a drum on the bottoms. Let rest 10 minutes and enjoy with myriads of options.

The rye bread was an adventure that I seem to frequent, known as the learn as you go method. I can rarely follow recipes, which is why Dawn oftentimes gives me strange looks with my flavor combinations. A few days ago she gave me the look when she smelled cardamom on the cauliflower, but you just never know. In my book there are few ways to learn much better than experience, and this rye bread turned out to be such an experience. The rye bread I made proved to be complex and hearty with an added mellowness combined with a rich molasses finish. And I must add, if you have yet to add rye bread to your baking scheme, it is worth the time and effort especially with rich meats and robust veggies.

German Sourdough Rye

1 2/3 C whole rye flour (preferably Hodgson Mill or other high quality brand)
1 C unbleached white bread flour
1/3 C course ground spelt
1-1 1/4 C white sourdough starter
1 C unchlorinated water
2 T salt
4 T unsulphered blackstrap molasses
corn meal for baking stone

Stir together wet ingredients in a bowl until sourdough is thoroughly incorporated and let sit 5 minutes. Add flours and stir until it forms a ragged ball. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Turn ball onto clean floured surface and knead for between 10 and 15 minutes. Cover the dough ball with the bowl and let rest 20 minutes.

Spread salt onto work surface and knead salt into the dough ball for approximately 5 minutes. Place ball into floured bowl and cover allowing to rise at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours or until doubled in volume.
Punch down and sift a blanket of flour on top and let rise at room temperature for 7 hours or until tripled in volume. Have baking stone preheated in 450 degree oven for one hour.

Carefully score boule in criss-cross or whatever pattern you fancy. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour depending on weather and oven on mealed baking stone. Boule should sound hollow as a drum beat on bottom. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Oh, Sweet Pea

I'm not sure how the weather has been for everyone else these last two weeks, but here it has been absolutely gorgeous. Rather than quickly jaunting from place to place, I found myself slowing down to enjoy the perfect early spring weather. As soon as Daniel or I got home, the windows were opened to take in in the crisp spring air. To celebrate being one step closer to the Farmer's Markets that will kick into gear later in the spring, I put together this bright Friday Night concoction.

The cornucopia of possibilities that instantly spring to mind as I take a precious ball of our pizza dough from the freezer is perhaps the single reason Daniel and I enjoy making pizza so much, and do it so often. You may notice it comes up often on here, but trust me, there's plenty of more pizza baking going on, usually about one a week.. There's just so much you can do with a few simple, straightforward ingredients and flavors. For this particular pie, for example, I went through a few different possibilities. Originally planning for an arugula centered concoction, I was disappointed to discover its absence, as the fresh produce is at that odd juncture between winter and spring. Instead, I replaced the peppery bite of arugula with the sweet refreshing bite of the green pea to make a bright green sauce for a vivid March welcome to spring. 

Green Spring Pizza
Prepared Pizza Dough (recipe available here)
Green Pea Pizza Sauce (below)
2-3 Slices Prosciutto
1/4 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan
1 Medium Sweet Onion, Halved, Sliced Thinly, soaked in Balsamic Vinegar for 1-2 hours
Cornmeal for covering pizza stone and pizza peel
1. Place pizza stone in oven and preheat oven to 475 at least an hour before cooking.
2. Lightly cover pizza peel with cornmeal to prevent sticking. Stretch pizza dough to desired size. Spread pizza dough to coat pizza thinly. Top with onions, prosciutto, and grated parmesan.
3. Place cornmeal on pizza stone and carefully slide pizza onto stone. Bake 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven once crust begins to brown. Let cool slightly before cutting. *Garnish with additional parmesan cheese if desired.

Green Pea Pizza Sauce
3/4 Cup Green Peas
Small Handful Baby Spinach (Stems Removed)
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
Juice and Zest from 1/2 One Medium Lemon
Salt & Pepper to Taste
1. Combine all ingredients except salt and pepper in blender.
2. Puree, blending until smooth, adding extra olive oil if needed. Mixture should be smooth but will be thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Beacon of Spring

Spring is in the air and I can feel it, or maybe that is the the taste of fresh tomatoes that my tastebuds remind me of when I am forced to satisfy them with the canned variety. It is rather ironic that all I can think of is fresh tomatoes when this dish includes canned tomatoes that must suffice for a month or so more until the purveyors display tomatoes in all shapes and hues for me to pick through and ponder like some Pandoran mystery with all their possibilities. As Joel Robuchon explains in "The Complete Robuchon," tomatoes found in the market out of season are not tomatoes at all, or in my opinion not the ones that dreams are made of. The book is well worth a peruse for his wealth of cooking knowledge if you get a chance to pick it up at a bookstore or the library.

I have not stopped cooking since the Ohio Wine Dinner, rather just procrastinating about writing another post. Since then I traveled to Virginia and D.C. to visit my brother and friends which instilled an even greater desire to experiment in the kitchen, due to the "garbage" we consumed there compared to the homecooked meals I am used to. But, what is one to do when democracy chooses fast food and my mind envisions Jose Andres' restaurants and fathoms of others located just a tram ride away in D.C. The trip did instill a reinforced love of Spanish chorizo that Andreas would appreciate in all its spicy herbal goodness. Chorizo truly provides bountiful flavor even in the the smallest quantities and aside from bacon is one of the best meat flavorings in my book, though not as versatile.

Another ingredient Americans so often underlook that has become more and more of a winter standby are chickpeas. The creamy textural nuggets provide so much body to stews and curries it is a shame more cooks do not give them their culinary due. Whether pureed in hummus, or whole in a summer salad or soup they are amazing team players. So maybe you guessed chickpeas and chorizo are a part of the meal I am describing and if you did you are correct. There is something homely and consoling about a bowl of stew and a glass of garnache that sweeps the mind away from the chill oudoors, or maybe it assimilates our systems to the two, making us friends.

To go with the chorizo stew I conjured up an airy pilsner challah bread to go with the meal. Before this point my bread baking had yet to unite the yeastiness of blonde beer with bread's inherent fermented nature and hardly to a challah-like braided bread. To compliment the heartiness of the stew I omited the eggs in the bread itself to give it a lighter quality. Instead, I used an egg wash to adhere those most excellent jewels known as toasted sesame seeds. Those beads of welcome always remind me of summer burgers with family and friends and hopefully this stew and bread can be shared with loved ones as all homemade meals should.

Chorizo Stew

2 Shallots finely diced
2 small onions finely diced
5 cloves garlic diced
2 green onions, white part only finely diced
1 28 oz. can plum tomatoes
2 oz. Spanish chorizo finely diced
4 slices smoked bacon finely diced
3/4 to 1 C dried chickpeas soaked over night
1/2 C grated parmesan cheese
2 T unsalted butter
1 T cardamom

Saute onions, shallots, garlic, bacon, and chorizo for approximately 5 mimutes over medium heat or until chorizo and bacon have yielded their juices and other items are softened. Meanwhile in a large pot of boiling water add drained chickpeas and cook approximately 45 minutes or until they begin to soften.

Add tomatoes and juice to saucepan with chorizo and other ingredients. Crush tomatoes with a potato masher and simmer adding chickpeas once cooked. Add cardamom, and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle grated parmesan over just before serving.

Pilsner Challah Bread 
(Adapted from Favorite Beer Bread in "The Easy way to Artisan Breads and Pastries"

1 packet active dry yeast (preferably Hodgson Mill)
1-12 oz. pilsner beer (preferably PBR or Burger Classic)
3 1/4 C. unbleached bread flour (preferably King Arthur)
3/4 C. whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 T amber honey 

Egg Wash
1 egg
1 T unchlorinated water
1 T toasted sesame seeds

Combine beer 110-115 degrees, honey, and yeast and let sit until yeast is proofed (begins to foam) approximately 10 minutes. Room temperature liquid will proof yeast, but takes longer. Once yeast has proofed add flours and stir to combine, adding salt after dough is mixed because yeast and salt in direct contact are enemies i.e. the salt kills the yeast.  Form into a ragged mass and let rest for 5 minutes. Knead for approximately 10 minutes on floured surface and place in buttered bowl covered by a towel allowing to rise for about an hour or until doubled in size. Flip dough back onto floured counter and knead for about 5 minutes or until extremely smooth. Preheat oven with pizza stone or unfinished earthen tiles to 425 degrees. Divide into three ropes, braid, apply egg wash and sesame seeds, placing on floured pizza peel. Cover and let rise for approximately an hour and bake on pizza stone or unfinished earthen tiles approximately 30 minutes or until bread sounds hollow to the thump. Allow to cool for ten minutes, slice, and enjoy.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Marching Through

So...before our big 24,24,24 dinner, we had managed to be somewhat consistent writing posts. After a week of hogging the computer before finals, and now starting to write final papers, I realize that if I don't post now, half the month will go by without a word from either of us. As I've mentioned before, while I'm busy and stressed I take a lot of baking breaks. So, given the chance we wont be doing much posting or commenting for the week, I thought I'd give you a glimpse of what I would be and have already been doing.

With the cultural rise in interest in vegetarian, vegan, organic, and local lifestyles, there are now a lot more alternative recipes for sweets that are more 'friendly' to some of these different groups. When I was sorting through the pantry, I found a can of pumpkin I had reserved in anticipation of a Thanksgiving pumpkin shortage. It slowly migrated to the back behind cans of tomatoes, but was rescued to make a fudgy dark chocolate, vegan friendly cookies. For some time, as I spotted vegan bakeries popping up around Columbus, I was quite skeptical as to how, without butter, or eggs, a cookie could be a cookie, a brownie a brownie, etc etc. Then, I was fortunate enough to try half a cookie here, a brownie there, and even a piece of cake. Although my attempt with these cookies is nowhere near as good as any of those yet, and I would perhaps rethink the whole wheat flour choice in favor of whole wheat pastry flour or a whole wheat and oat flour combination, they were very rich, chewy fudgy chocolate cookies, perfect for a 3 am pick-me-up.

Double Dark Chocolate Cookies
1/4 Cup Sugar
2 oz dark chocolate chunks (about 1/2 of a 3.5 oz bar chopped)
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp pumpkin
1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp dark cocoa powder
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar to coat.
1. Preheat oven to 350. Combine sugar, pumpkin, vanilla and maple syrup until smooth.
2. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. Combine well.
3. Add dry mixture to wet mixture. Add chocolate chunks, fold to combine.
4. Scoop rounded tablespoons. Roll into balls, and dip in sugar to coat top. Place dough onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper and slightly flatten (these don't spread hardly at all). Cook 10-12 minutes.
5. Remove from oven. Cool on wire rack. Enjoy when cooled completely.

Moving away from the vegan friendly cookies, I've been using flax seed as an egg substitute quite frequently lately.  This somewhat middle ground bar cookie works well as a nice good morning breakfast treat. I think after a disappointing purchase of a bland, tasteless, cardboard like oat bar  from a campus coffee shop, I'm trying to make up with my own renditions. The fact that I don't spend much time rolling out the cookies, and they bake 30 instead of 8 minutes, is a plus too! The orange zest gives the bars a unique taste to compliment the incredible chewy but crumbly texture of the oat bar and bursts of tart sweetness from the cranberries. This was my second attempt at these (the first were gone too quick to get pictures), so I hope you can maybe find some use for them.

Cranberry Orange Oat Bars (Adapted from Quaker's Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies Recipe)
1/2 Cup Butter, softened
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 tbsp ground flax seed dissolved in 3 tbsp water
1/2 tsp Orange Extract
1-1/2 Cup Old Fashioned Oats
3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp fresh grated Orange Zest
1. Preheat oven to 350. Combine butter, sugars until creamy and pale brown in color. Add flax seed dissolved in water and orange zest. Mix well.
2. In different bowl, combine flour, oats, baking soda, and orange zest. Mix well.
3. Add dry mixture into wet mixture. Add cranberries and mix well.
4. Spread mixture in square 9x9 ungreased baking dish.
5. Bake about 30 minutes, until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

The last in my series of baking so far has been these guys:

Look pretty boring, I know. Looks more or less like the same recipe for the cranberry orange ones, huh? Wrong. Suffice to say, unlike the chocolate cookies, these are most definitely not vegan, or vegetarian friendly cookies. Besides the butter, and eggs in these, the nice pieces you see are not some dried fruit. Nor are they some nice toasted nuts. Nope, instead, what you see my friends, is some nice, sweet, smokey and salty, candied bacon. Yup, this is when you realize you've gone perhaps too far. Suffice to say, once I pulled these out of the oven, I quickly decided that was enough baking for a little while. Now off to find some hungry stressed colleagues to feed all these to!

Maple Bacon Oat Bars
Use recipe for Cranberry Orange Oat Bars (above)
Substitute1 egg for flax seed dissolved in water
Substitute maple flavoring for orange extract
Substitute 1 cup (about 5 slices) of candied bacon for 1/2 cup dried cranberries
*Optional, once spread in pan, top with 1/4 cup pecan pieces.

For the candied bacon, you can do a Google search for more precise directions from a number of bloggers, but basically, coat thick slices with brown sugar or maple syrup, and place on some sort of non stick surface or roasting rack for 20-30 in 350 oven.