Archive for June, 2008


Pita is one of those things that is just so much better when made at home than bought from the grocery store. Or at least this recipe, which is the only pita I’ve made, is. The bread is more tender and of course flavorful than what I buy.

Pita isn’t any harder to make than other homemade bread. The dough is kneaded and allowed to rise, like other bread recipes. It’s then shaped into balls, left to rest a few minutes, and rolled into a thin oval. Like most kneaded doughs, this one doesn’t like to be rolled out and will probably need to rest half way through to let the gluten strands relax. Otherwise it’ll be like trying to roll out a giant rubber band.

Only the baking process differs substantially from other breads. Pita is baked on a pre-heated surface, which I’m guessing is what produces the characteristic pocket. I’ve seen recipes that use a pizza stone for this, but I’ve always just preheated a flour-coated baking pan. As much as I love my pizza stone, the baking pan seems a little easier.

These pita were a fantastic addition to the Middle Eastern feast I made a few weeks ago. But my lunch of leftovers the next day was at least as good as the dinner – hummus, falafel, and vegetables stuffed into the pita’s pocket made for an incredibly satisfying mid-day meal.

Pita (adapted from Ultimate Bread, by Eric Treuille and Ursula Feriggno)

UB note: The staple bread of the Middle East, called Khubz in Arabic, is more commonly known by its Greek name, Pita, in the west. Its soft, chewy crust, absorbent crumb, and hollow pouch make it the most versatile of breads, ideal to scoop up, dip in, wrap around, or be filled with all manner of food. Best served warm, Pita can be easily reheated: sprinkle lightly with water and warm in the oven. Keep Pita in a sealed plastic bag to prevent dryness.

Bridget note: The only things I’ve changed from the original recipe are adapting it for instant yeast and for a stand mixer.

Makes 8 breads

3½ (17.5 ounces) cups unbleached flour
2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1¼ cups water
1 tablespoons olive oil

1. Mix flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Mix water and olive oil in 1-quart Pyrex liquid measuring cup. Turn machine to low and slowly add liquid. When dough comes together, increase speed to medium (setting number 4 on a KitchenAid mixer) and mix until dough is smooth, supple, and elastic, stopping machine two or three times to scrape dough from hook if necessary, about 10 minutes. Initially, the dough will be quite stiff. It will soften and stretch as you continue kneading. Turn dough onto lightly floured work surface; knead to form smooth, round ball, about 15 seconds. (Alternatively, you can knead by hand for 15 minutes.)

2. Place dough in very lightly oiled bowl, rubbing dough around bowl to lightly coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; place in warm oven until dough doubles in size, about 1½ hours.

3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

4. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth ball. Let rest 10 minutes.

5. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each ball to form an oval, 9 inches long and ¼ inches thick. Cover with a dish towel and proof until slightly risen, about 20 minutes.

6. Dust two baking sheets with flour and preheat in the oven for 5 minutes. Place the dough ovals on the hot baking sheets and return immediately to the oven. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, until puffy. Wrap in a clean, dry cloth to keep the crusts soft and to prevent drying out.

I think these are the last of the pictures from my old camera. Woohoo!

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5 question meme

Ah, that was possibly the best vacation ever. Six days with nothing to do but play in the waves, take pictures of my nephews, and drink beer on the beach. Everyone got along at least as well as could be expected, and I found that family vacations are that much more enjoyable when my husband is there too.

Shortly before I left, I was tagged by Elizabeth for the meme that’s been going around.

What were you doing 10 years ago?

Ten years ago I had just finished my first year of college, and I was spending the summer back at home working at a shoe store. I remember going hiking with my high school friends and my college roommate coming over once a week to eat tomato soup and watch TV.

What are 5 things on your to-do list today?

1 – Balance the checkbook and pay bills
2 – See a movie (We’ll do rock-paper-scissors to decide if we see Indiana Jones or Sex and the City)
3 – Pick through my pictures from the vacation, deleting the blurry or redundant ones
4 – Work on some job search correspondence
5 – Go to the bookstore and drink a cappuccino

5 snacks that I enjoy

1 – Ripe, seasonal fruit
2 – Cheese and crackers
3 – Beer (hey, it’s filling)
4 – Crudite, especially cauliflower, with dip
5 – Treats!  Cookies, brownies, muffins, any of that…

Things I would do if I was a billionaire:

1 – Various donations and such
2 – Buy a house on the beach
3 – Buy a boat and spend tons of time on it
4 – Pay for all of my nephews and nieces (and I suppose my kids when I have them) to go to the college of their choice
5 – Never work a 9-to-5 desk job

Places I’ve lived:

Buffalo Grove, IL
Hafr Al Batin, Saudi Arabia
Carlsbad, NM
Albuquerque, NM
Las Cruces, NM
(Carlsbad, NM, again)
South Bend, IN
Binghamton, NY
Syracuse, NY
Philadelphia area, PA

Jobs I’ve had:

Cashier and cook at a pizza joint
Stocker at a shoe store
Tutor during college
Intern at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Cashier at Blockbuster
Teaching assistant while working on my master’s degree
Research assistant while working on my PhD
Adjunct professor

Since I’m late getting to this meme and it looks like most people have participated, I’m not going to tag anyone.

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Oh my gosh, this was such a great meal. I had something similar at a restaurant a while ago when Dave and I stopped for lunch in Syracuse’s university area. I got the vegetarian combination plate, which included hummus, falafel, baba ganoush, pita, and I think tabbouleh. I was trying to recreate that fantastic meal at home. I forgot to make tabbouleh this time, which was fine because this was plenty of cooking as it was.

I took the easy way out and made all Cooks Illustrated recipes. The hummus is their recently published Restaurant-Style Hummus recipe, which has gotten some great reviews. I thought it was really good, although I don’t know if it was that much better than any other hummus I’ve made. But – then I made it again a few weeks later with beans I cooked myself and Oh.My.God, that was so good. I had no idea it would make that much of a difference.

Other than that lunch in Syracuse, this is the only baba ghanoush I’ve ever had. You’re supposed to grill the eggplant until it’s completely soft and smoky, but grilling isn’t an option for me, so I had to use the oven. I still thought it was really good. It reminds me a lighter, more vegetal hummus.

The falafel was my favorite part of the meal. Shocking, I know, that Dave and I both liked the deep-fried food the best. Also, this was my first experience with dried chickpeas, and I loved them. The same funky shape as canned chickpeas but absolutely hard as rocks.

There’s some overlap between these three items – tahini or chickpeas showed up in everything – but they still have very distinct personalities. Tabbouleh would have been a nice light contrast, so I’ll have to remember that next time. And I can’t wait until next time!

(I’ll talk about the pita in my next post.)

Baba Ghanoush, Oven Method (from Cooks Illustrated July 2001)

CI note: When buying eggplant, select those with shiny, taut, and unbruised skins and an even shape (eggplant with a bulbous shape won’t cook evenly). We prefer to serve baba ghanoush only lightly chilled. If yours is cold, let it stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving. Baba ghanoush does not keep well, so plan to make it the day you want to serve it. Pita bread, black olives, tomato wedges, and cucumber slices are nice accompaniments.

Bridget note: Cooks Illustrated has grilling methods for this recipe as well, but I don’t have a grill, so the oven it was.

Makes 2 cups

2 pounds eggplant (about 2 large globe, 5 medium Italian, or 12 medium Japanese), each poked uniformly over surface with fork to prevent bursting
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 small clove garlic , minced
2 tablespoons tahini paste
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil , plus extra for serving
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil, set eggplants on baking sheet and roast, turning every 15 minutes, until eggplants are uniformly soft when pressed with tongs, about 60 minutes for large globe eggplants, 50 minutes for Italian eggplants, and 40 minutes for Japanese eggplants. Cool eggplants on baking sheet 5 minutes.

2. Set small colander over bowl or in sink. Trim top and bottom off each eggplant. Slit eggplants lengthwise and use spoon to scoop hot pulp from skins and place pulp in colander (you should have about 2 cups packed pulp); discard skins. Let pulp drain 3 minutes.

3. Transfer pulp to workbowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Add lemon juice, garlic, tahini, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; process until mixture has coarse, choppy texture, about eight 1-second pulses. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper; transfer to serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap flush with surface of dip, and refrigerate 45 to 60 minutes. To serve, use spoon to make trough in center of dip and spoon olive oil into it; sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Chickpea Fritters-Falafel (from Cooks Illustrated’s The Best International Recipe)

The chickpeas in this recipe must be soaked overnight; you can not substitute canned beans or quick-soaked chickpeas because their texture will result in soggy falafel. A wire spider comes in handy here when cooking the falafel. Serve the falafel in lavash or pita bread with lettuce, pickled vegetables, and chopped tomatoes or cucumbers, or as an hors d’oeuvres with tahini sauce as a dip.

Makes 20 falafel

6 ounces dried chickpeas (1 cup), rinsed, picked over, and soaked overnight in water to cover by an inch
5 scallions, chopped coarse
½ cup packed fresh parsley leaves
½ cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
3 medium garlic cloves (about 1 tablespoon), minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 quarts vegetable oil, for frying
1.Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 200 degrees. Drain the chickpeas, discarding the soaking liquid. Process all of the ingredients except for the oil in a food processor until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping down the bowl as needed. Form the mixture into 1 tablespoon-sized disks, about ½ inch thick and 1 inch wide, and arrange on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. (The falafel can be refrigerated at this point for up to 2 hours.)

3. Heat the oil in a 5-quart large Dutch over medium-high heat to 375 degrees. (Use an instant-read thermometer that registers high temperatures or clip a candy/deep-fat thermometer onto the side of the pan.) Fry half of the falafel, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as needed to maintain 375 degrees, until deep brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet using a slotted spoon or wire spider and keep warm in the oven. Return the oil to 375 degrees and repeat with the remaining falafel. Serve immediately with the sauce.

I’m out of town right now, eating truffles and drinking wine. I’ll be back next week to catch up on comments and other blogs!

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One of my favorite aspects of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking is that she gives twelve brownie recipes. There’s so much discussion about the best brownie recipe that it seems like sometimes the variety between brownies gets overlooked. Not only are there different add-ins – turtle brownies, espresso brownies, creme de menthe brownies – but there are different textures, and one isn’t necessary better than another. Di’s TWD choice of French Chocolate Brownies was the first of Dorie’s brownies recipes that I tried.

Dorie tells a story of how these brownies were intended to be a rich chocolate cake, but her guests mistook them for brownies, and she didn’t correct them. I can see the confusion. The ingredient list is classic brownie, but the mixing method and resulting texture bridge the line between brownie and cake. Beating the eggs and sugar together until they’re thick creates a light, airy confection that is at the same time tender and moist and far less dense than most brownies.

Dorie calls for the unusual addition of flambéed raisins to the brownies, which most members of TWD weren’t excited about. I considered leaving that step out altogether, but didn’t want to miss out on the fun of flambéing. One of my favorite dessert combinations is raspberries and chocolate, so I used fresh raspberries. It was perfect. I think I’ll always add the raspberries to this recipe.

My only disappointment with these brownies was that they weren’t as chocolately as I would prefer, but I don’t blame Dorie for that. She says she prefers bittersweet chocolate over semisweet, but of course those words don’t have any official meaning in the US. I usually bake with Ghirardelli, whose bittersweet chocolate is 60% cacao, but this time I used Sharffenberger, whose semisweet is 60%, so I bought the semisweet. I probably should have used their bittersweet. On top of that, I read a Cooks Illustrated’s review of dark chocolates, and their comments for Sharffenberger included “lacked choco-oomph.” So perhaps it wasn’t the best choice of chocolate for this recipe.

But regardless, I’m nitpicking (again). I savored every single bite I took of these brownies, and I was sad when I finished each serving. I love that they’re chocolately and rich, but also unique for a brownie in their cakelike tenderness. And, an added bonus for a middle-brownie lover? There’s really no difference between the edges and middle. Every single serving is moist and light.

French Chocolate Brownies (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)

16 brownies

Bridget note: I substituted about ½ cup fresh raspberries, halved, for the raisins. Instead of boiling them in water as in step 2, I gently heated them in a small skillet before adding the rum and continuing with step 2.

Update: I made these again, this time using a Pyrex dish instead of the metal pan I used for the original entry.  I don’t know if things bake faster in glass or what, but I must have overbaked them, because the brownies were too dry.   So check for doneness early!

½ cup all-purpose flour
⅛ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
⅓ cup raisins, dark or golden
1½ tablespoons water
1½ tablespoons dark rum
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1½ sticks (12 tablespoons; 6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 12 pieces
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar

Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, butter the foil, place the pan on a baking sheet, and set aside.

1. Whisk together the flour, salt and cinnamon, if you’re using it.

2. Put the raisins in a small saucepan with the water, bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the water almost evaporates. Add the rum, let it warm for about 30 seconds, turn off the heat, stand back and ignite the rum. Allow the flames to die down, and set the raisins aside until needed.

3. Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Slowly and gently melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and add the butter, stirring so that it melts. It’s important that the chocolate and butter not get very hot. However, if the butter is not melting, you can put the bowl back over the still-hot water for a minute. If you’ve got a couple of little bits of unmelted butter, leave them-it’s better to have a few bits than to overheat the whole. Set the chocolate aside for the moment.

4. Working with a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until they are thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Lower the mixer speed and pour in the chocolate-butter, mixing only until it is incorporated-you’ll have a thick, creamy batter. Add the dry ingredients and mix at low speed for about 30 seconds-the dry ingredients won’t be completely incorporated and that’s fine. Finish folding in the dry ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula, then fold in the raisins along with any liquid remaining in the pan.

5. Scrape the batter into the pan and bake 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is dry and crackled and a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and allow the brownies to cool to warm or room temperature.

6. Carefully lift the brownies out of the pan, using the foil edges as handles, and transfer to a cutting board. With a long-bladed knife, cut the brownies into 16 squares, each roughly 2 inches on a side, taking care not to cut through the foil.

Serving: The brownies are good just warm or at room temperature; they’re even fine cold. I like these with a little something on top or alongside-good go-alongs are whipped crème fraiche or whipped cream, ice cream or chocolate sauce or even all three!

Storing: Wrapped well, these can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

I’m out of town this week, building sand castles and burying nephews in the sand. I’ll be back next week to catch up on comments and other blogs!

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kaiser rolls

I said recently that my health nut phase didn’t last long, and while I no longer stress about eating white rice or refined sugar, I do feel a little guilty buying white bread. There are some breads, mostly artisanal, that I prefer made with all white flour, but usually I like the flavor and nutrition of at least a portion of whole wheat flour.

I love Kaiser rolls for sandwiches, and Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice has some enticing pictures accompanying his recipe. The recipe follows Reinhart’s standard method of using a portion of pre-fermented dough to maximize the flavor of the final product.

The result, of course, was very good. But, there are a few changes I want to make. Mostly I want them to be a little sweeter. The only sugar in the recipe is just a bit of barley malt syrup. In the future, I’ll add honey or granulated sugar. Also, Reinhart’s photo looks like he used an egg wash or something, which he doesn’t call for in the recipe. His are so shiny and pretty, I think I might use an egg wash, or at least milk, next time.

Overall though, these were good, and fun. And with the whole wheat flour I added, just a bit healthier than what I would have got from the grocery store.

Kaiser Rolls (from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

Makes 6 large rolls or 9 smaller rolls (I made 8 rolls and thought they were pretty big)

Bridget note: Next time, I’ll add 2 tablespoons honey or 3 tablespoons granulated sugar to the dough. I’ll also brush the rolls with milk just before baking.

1½ cups (8 ounces) pate fermentée
1¼ cups (10 ounces) unbleached bread flour
¾ teaspoon plus a pinch (0.2 ounce) salt
1 teaspoon (0.11 ounce) instant yeast
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1½ teaspoons (0.33 ounce) barley malt syrup
1½ tablespoons (0.75 ounce) vegetable oil or shortening, melted
10 tablespoons to ¾ cup (5 to 6 ounces) water lukewarm

1. Take the paté fermentée out of the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough. Cut it up into about 10 small pieces with a pastry scraper or serrated knife. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill.

2. Stir together the flour, salt, and yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add the pate fermentée, egg, barley malt syrup, oil, and 10 tablespoons water. Stir (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) for 1 minute, or until the ingredients form a ball. If there is still some loose flour, add the remaining 2 tablespoons water.

3. Lightly dust the counter with flour, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook). Knead for about 10 minutes (6 minutes by machine), adding flour, if needed, to make a dough that is soft and supple, tacky but not sticky. The dough should pass the windowpane test and the internal temperature should register 77 to 81 degrees. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

4. Ferment at room temperature for 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size. If the dough doubles in size before 2 hours have elapsed, remove it, knead it lightly to degas it, and return it to the bowl to continue fermenting until doubled from original size or until 2 hours have elapsed.

5. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 6 to 9 equal pieces (4 ounces for large rolls, 2⅔-ounce pieces for smaller rolls). Form the pieces into rolls. Mist the rounds lightly with spray oil, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and let the dough relax for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, line a sheet pan with baking parchment, lightly mist it with spray oil, and then dust with semolina flour or cornmeal.

6. Prepare the individual rolls by cutting them with a Kaiser rolls cutter or knotting them. To knot them, roll out a round of dough into a 12-inch strand (shorter for smaller rolls). Tie a simple knot. Loop the two ends through the center of the knot a second time (see pictures) Place the rolls, cut side down, on the parchment, mist lightly with spray oil, and loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap of a food-grade plastic bag.

7. Proof the rolls for 45 minutes at room temperature, then flip them over so the cut or folded side is facing up. Mist again with spray oil, cover the pan, and continue proofing for another 30 to 45 minutes, or until the rolls are double their original size.

8. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Uncover the rolls and prepare them for baking. If you want seeds on your rolls, mist them with water and sprinkle poppy seeds over the top. If not, just mist them with water.

9. Place the pan in the oven, spray the oven walls with water, and close the door. After 10 minutes, rotate the pan for even baking and lower the oven setting to 400 degrees. Continue baking until the rolls are a medium golden brown and register approximately 200 degrees in the center. This will take 15 to 20 minutes for large rolls, or less for smaller rolls.

10. Remove the rolls from the pan and transfer to a cooling rack. Wait at least 30 minutes before serving.

Pate fermentée

This is twice what you need for one recipe of Kaiser rolls.

1 1/8 cups (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/8 cups (5 ounces) unbleached bread flour
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon instant yeast
¾ cup to ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 to 7 ounces) water

1. Stir together the flours, salt, and yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of a standing mixer). Add ¾ cup of the water, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball (or mix on low speed for 1 minute with the paddle attachment). Adjust the flour or water, according to need, so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff. (It is better to err on the sticky side, as you can adjust easier during kneading. It is harder to add water once the dough firms up.)

2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for 4 to 6 minutes (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook for 4 minutes), or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky. The internal temperature should be 77 to 81 degrees.

3. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 1 hour, or until it swells to about 1½ times its original size.

4. Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it slightly to degas, and return it to the bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. You can keep this in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze it in an airtight plastic bag for up to 3 months.

I’m out of town this week, walking along the ocean and hiking around a lake. I’ll be back next week to catch up on comments and other blogs!

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