December 31, 2010


These wonderful little packets of yummy goodness were introduced to me when I worked at a small coffee shop on the west side of Santa Cruz during my college years. The place was an offshoot shop affiliated with Beckmann's Old World Bakery who specializes in German breads, among other things. Pfeffernusse are a German spice cookie that shows up during Christmas and for the last two years Sarah and I have been making them for her family's annual cookie swap. They're delicious.

Some recipes I've seen call for candied citrus peel in the cookie dough, but I like to get my citrus in the icing instead.


2 1/4 Cups Flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 Cup Butter
3/4 Cups Packed Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Molasses
1 egg

Royal Icing, for dipping

Sift together the dry ingredients.  Cream the butter and sugar until well combined and fluffy.  This should take from 5 to 10 minutes in a Kitchen Aide mixer using the paddle attachment.  Once the butter and sugar are well creamed beat in the egg until well combined.  Beat in the molasses next.

Work in the flour mix in stages until just combined.  Don't want to overwork the dough here.  Chill until the dough is firm, or until you can handle it without it sticking to your fingers.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  When then dough can be handled, roll the dough in to small rounds about 1" in diameter and lay on a cookie sheet.  These shouldn't spread out much at all so if you need to cram them together it should be ok.  

Bake each tray of cookies for about 14 minutes, or until the bottom of the cookie is lightly browned.  Let the hot cookies sit on the tray for about a minute after they come out of the oven and then transfer them to cooling racks.

To make the Royal Icing beat one egg white until frothy.  Beat in 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1 tsp. lemon juice, and the zest of one lemon until well combined.  If the icing is too thick for dipping add in a little more lemon juice or water until you reach the right consistency.  You're looking for something that will stick to the cookie and ooze all around it, not something you'll plop onto the top and have sit there like you want for sugar cookies.
When the cookies are cool, dip each one in Royal Icing and cover completely.  Lay out on racks until dry.  This could take several hours depending on how goopy you made the icing.

Serve with hot chocolate.

November 8, 2010

Fresh Goat's Milk Cheese

I am a cheese novice.  I want to make it perfectly clear that what I have undertaken here is an experiment and is by no means a normal occurrence in my household.  Oh, but if I only had a cave, and several acres of open pasture, and a herd of goats, and a milking parlor, and a cheese making parlor, and some help...oh then, then would I make some cheese!  To start along such a path one ought to begin with the basics, right?  Fresh cheeses are that first step.  They require no aging (i.e.: no cave) and can be eating nearly 24 hours after milking.  This type of cheese is more commonly known as Chevre or Farmer's Cheese.

Right.  For cheese-making 101 try either of these lovely sites: there's the New England Cheese Making Supply Co. (from which I got the starter culture and powdered rennet used to make the cheese), and the equally informative Frankhauser's Cheese Page (put together by a Bio Prof. in Ohio, go figure).  The NECMS site is more giving in terms of the cheese recipes discussed but FCP goes more in depth as to why cheese happens.  I'm more of a why person so the FCP is my pick, generally.

To make the cheese just follow the instructions:

We're using raw goat's milk here so you first have to heat the milk to pasteurize it (I think it's 116 F for 30 seconds), then cool to 86 F, which is a good starting temperature for the starter culture being used.

Stir in the packet of culture and rennet and let the cheese sit at room temp for about 12 hours.  At the end of this waiting time the milk should have set up and if you plunge in a finger, hook it toward the top of the curd and pull you should have what's called the "clean break" on the FCP.  This is the point where the culture has sufficiently acidified the milk and has allowed the rennet to set a curd to the point where if you run a blunt object through the curd it should break up instead of just mush apart.  If it's too squishy (more like yogurt) let the culture and rennet work for a few more hours.

If everything is good, roughly cut the curd into chunks so the whey (the yellow-ish liquid that separates from the white curd) can more easily get away from the curd.  Then dump the whole thing (slowly) into a flour-sack towel lined colander suspended over an appropriate container.  A few layers of cheese cloth would work ok here too, but I like the much finer weave of something like cotton T-shirt material.

Hang the cheese to drain into a dish for at least 12 hours.  This could be in the fridge or not.  Remember, the thing's been sitting out in the open for 12 hours already, so it should be fine hanging out some more.

And what you see here is about 1 pound of fresh goats milk cheese.  I think it's lost about 50 - 60% of its volume at this point, so a lot of what you're working with at the beginning comes out of the process as liquid.  This liquid is of course chock full of proteins, live cultures, and nutrients.  I would make biscuits out of it, or pancakes.  Some people drink it...yech.  You can always just dump it in your garden.  Or feed it to the chickens.

October 29, 2010

Milk From a Goat

I have dabbled in making my own dairy products in the past.  Mainly my efforts have been directed toward fresh rennet-less cheeses (like panir) and yogurt.  Fresh cheeses are great but you get so little cheese for so much cash.  Yogurt is just barely cost effective but works best if you make big batches.  As I don't eat a lot of yogurt this didn't really work to my advantage.  

Of all the hand worked dairy products cheese is my best love.  I've wanted to make cheese at home for years but have been hindered by 1) the difficulty in finding small quantities of rennet locally and 2) the slightly more bothersome need to buy milk from the grocery store (which when buying organic can be expensive) and putting hard time and effort into changing that product into something else that I could easily buy at the grocery store, often for less money than I would spend to make it myself.

As I understand it, cheese making used to be a way of preserving a relatively abundant resource (fresh milk) that would normally not last very long at room temperature (less than a day I figure).  A healthy goat in a milk producing state (i.e.: one that was recently pregnant) will produce up to a gallon of milk a day over a 10-month period, that's about 300 gallons of milk to deal with, from one goat; imagine if you had two, which is recommended because they are social animals.  A single cow may produce up to 8 gallons of milk a day in the same period.   I don't know about you but I don't think I could drink 2 gallons of milk in a day without being sick.

It just so happens that I don't have a goat, or a cow, so I'm in no need of preserving large amounts of high protein, high fat, liquid food stuffs.  I don't need to make cheese, so I don't make it.  I want to, I think it's fun and interesting, but there is absolutely no need (economical or otherwise) for me to do so. 

However a seminal opportunity presented itself to Sarah and I just a little while ago.  One of Sarah's co-workers lives on and often cares for a small farm/school facility in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  One of the benefits of of this arrangement is that she gets to milk the two goats every once in a while, which of course leaves here with more milk than she knows what to do with.  We were invited to participate in the goat milking process in exchange (?) for a gallon of milk.

Sarah was of course much better at it than I was, even though the goat didn't appreciate her chilly hands.  My apprehension is palpable.

It took us 20 minutes to get a little more than a quart of milk, which we promptly threw out because we got it all over our hands before it made it into the bucket.  Bacteria strikes again.  It was a fun experience but it wasn't something I'd like to do two times a day with multiple animals on a long term basis.

In the interest of keeping this post relatively short I'll post the cheese making that took place next time.

October 8, 2010

Samosas - Four Variations

I haven't too much to say about samosas in general.  They're really just savory turnovers and are made by folding some kind of tasty filling into pie crust and baking it until finished.  Nearly inexhaustible variations present themselves; perhaps the easiest thing to do is start with a base ingredient.

Four Samosa Variations:
Maybe you're going for something starchy.  Choose potato with onions, carrots, leeks, and combine with some type of green (chard, kale, spinach).  Caramelize the onions with garlic then add the potatoes and carrots til brown.  Lightly braise with stock to generate a type of sauce in the pan.  Add in the greens and flavor with rosemary, thyme, red pepper flake, and butter.  Mix it all together and taste for salt and pepper before forming the samosa.

Or choose rice or some other grain with any type of cooked bean (black, red, white, garbanzo, lima, fava) or lentil and caramelized onion.  Cook the rice using stock instead of water; caramelize the onion, de-glaze with stock, add the beans and flavor with oregano and thyme before mixing it all together and forming the samosa.  Remember to taste for salt.

Try either of these using curry spices and flavorings instead of the Franco/Italiano variations.  For the first gently fry cumin and mustard seeds in the pan until the mustard seeds pop (use a lid) and then add the onions with maybe garlic and ginger and slowly brown (30-40 minutes).  Add in the potatoes and carrots and lightly brown.  Then add in some curry powder and cook briefly before adding the braising liquid.  Lightly braise before adding the greens.  Top the samosa with a yogurt sauce or raita.

For the rice dish do about the same thing: fry up cumin and mustard seeds, add the onion with garlic and ginger, add a little curry powder and de-glaze the pan with stock.  Cook the rice with a bit of turmeric to make it a very bright yellow.  Mix it all together before forming the samosa.

Any of these should bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

Rolling out the Pie Crust:

For samosas, rolling out the dough is easy.  Take a full recipe of pie dough and break it into about 12 (?) pieces.  Press each of these out using your fingers onto a liberally floured surface until almost flat.  Liberally dust the top of the dough with flour before going over it a few times with a rolling pin.  You should have a disk that is about six inches in diameter and about 1/8" in thickness, give or take.  As long as you keep things well floured you should be fine; the rounds are small enough that handling it not going to rip holes all over the place and make a huge mess.

For pies everything is completely different.  The round ends up so big and the dough is so delicate that trying to handle to dough by itself can often lead to disaster.  What I've found through trial and error is that wax paper/parchment can work wonders.

For a top and bottom pie crust take the full pie dough recipe and break it in half.  Take one of the halves and throw it onto a piece of wax paper that's about 10" x 10"; press the dough flat using your fingers and the palm of your hand until you have a disk that is about 6 inches in diameter and about one half to three-quarters of an inch in thickness.  Then take another equally sized piece of paper and place this on top of the disk.  Use the rolling pin to methodically work the dough out from the center of the round toward the edge of the paper.  We're shooting for a disk that is about 12 inches in diameter and about 1/8" thick.  You may find that flipping the whole thing over and rolling from the other side about half way through is helpful.

Now remove one piece of paper, drape the dough over your pie pan with the remaining paper facing away from the pan, and gently remove the second piece of paper.  You may experience ripping of the dough, it's ok, it could be much much worse.

Do the same thing for the top of the pie once the filling is in and you're good to go.

October 4, 2010

A Simple Pie Crust

I've been making pies since I was little.  I believe it was pie that started me in on the path to enjoying time in the kitchen and introduced me to a hands-on experience with the food that I eat.  The crust of course forms the basis for any pie and is the most difficult and finicky part.  A good pie crust takes patience and a good feel for what you're working with.  It cannot be too wet and it cannot be overworked or the result will be a disaster. 

This is the recipe I use.  It uses 100% unsalted butter but you can do 50% butter and 50% vegetable shortening or lard if you feel like having a crust that is a little more chewy.  I've been trying to stay away from the semi-solid vegetable oils as they're stuffed with trans-fats; not to say that the cholesterol in the butter is much better for you, but I like the taste of butter, and it's pie, so who cares?  Let go a little.

A Simple Pie Crust (makes enough for 1 9in pie, top and bottom):

2 Cups White Flour
2/3 Cups Cold Butter, cubed
1 tsp. salt
Ice Water

Work about 2/3 of the butter into the flour and salt either using your hands or a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.  Work it in so that it forms very small crumbles.  Work the remaining butter into the mix so that you are left with larger pea sized hunks.  The larger pieces will melt and spread through the rolled crust during baking and add to the flakiness of the crust.

Once the butter is worked into the flour to your liking, dribble one or two tablespoons of ice water over the flour/butter/salt mix.  Take a fork and use it to dig down into the bowl from the side all the way to the base of the container, then lift the fork through the mix so that it turns and more comes in contact with the water.  DO NOT PRESS.  If the dough is pressed into the water to make contact strong gluten strands will form and the dough will become difficult to roll out.  Instead continue the dig and lift motion a few times until the water has been absorbed.   Add more water a tablespoon or two at a time and continue the dig and lift motion until some of the dough starts to come together.  What we're looking for here are large clumps of moist dough almost equally interspersed with smaller dry crumbles. 

At this point gently gather the dough in to a rough ball using your hands.  If the dough holds together well enough (it should not be smooth) transfer it to plastic wrap or waxed paper and then to the refrigerator for a rest.  If there are still a large amount of dry crumbles in the bowl, add a little more water and gently incorporate the crumbles into the dough mass before wrapping and refrigerating.

Once you get the hang of it a pie crust might take five or ten minutes to put together; it has taken me years to get to this point and I still have trouble every once in a while.  Be patient and don't rush.  A slow and gentle approach will yield dividends once you're ready to roll the dough.  Rushing the formation of the dough and trying to force moisture into the flour will cause it to stiffen and become resistant.  Be nice and enjoy you're time with it.

August 29, 2010

Beer Tasting

Our friend Renny is a beer crazy man. It is actually he that got both Sarah and I excited about [some] beer and started us out along a beer loving path. Sarah and I are more wine people and don't usually think to ourselves, "OMG, I need a beer!" Typically we think, "hmmm, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc would be quenching at the moment, hmmm." Yeah, we're snobs.

In the spirit of encouraging us and our friends to continue enjoying beer and in preparation for the eventual opening of Ye Olde Santa Cruz Beer Shoppe (there is currently not a serious proposal in the works, so calm down) Renny got a bunch of us together for a beer tasting and food pairing.  Each of us was assigned a style of beer to bring along with something that would pair well with that style. Renny was also generous enough to rummage around in his considerable cellar for a few gems to share with the group.

We started the night with a sour style and worked our way up and out in an ascending spiral to the barleywine.  I don't have a lot to say about the beers, I was only taking the briefest notes on who made them and what they were and don't have much on what they were like.  You'll just have to try them for yourselves.

Belgian Flanders Style: 
Cascade Brewing Apricot Ale 2009 Bottling (9%)
  Paired with bitter greens and vinaigrette.

  From Cascade's Web Site: Brewmaster Ron Gansberg based this Apricot Ale on a Belgian Tripel, putting it through 16 months lactic fermentation and aging in French oak wine barrels. The apricots were allowed to slowly ripen before introduction into the beer; the beer then aged another four months on the fruit before bottling. The finished product features the intense aroma of fresh-picked, slow ripened Northwest apricots warmed by the summer sun.

Strong Pale Ale:  
Mikkeller "It's Alive!" (8%). 
  Paired with apple cheddar bread.

  From Mikkeller's Web Site: It's Alive! is Mikkeller's answer and tribute to the trappist beer Orval. It's Alive is an easy-to-drink beer, with a lot of hops. The color is amber, the foam is high, white and dense. The potent Brettanomyces culture makes It's Alive continue to develop in the bottle.

Fantôme Biere Artisanale sur lie (8%)
  Fruity and skunky.  Paired with Camembert and chutney.

Brown Ale:
Sierra Nevada Tumbler 2010 (5.5%)
  Comes across as bitter and toasty.  Paired with Gouda.

  From Sierra Nevada's Web Site: As the nights grow cool, the leaves on the valley oaks begin to turn and fall. In honor of this yearly dance, we bring you Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale and invite you to enjoy the show. We use malt within days of roasting at the peak of its flavor to give Tumbler a gracefully smooth malt character. So pour a glass, and grab a window seat to watch as the leaves come tumbling down.

The Hop Bomb:
Devon's Double IPA 2010 (~8%)
  Highly aromatic of hops; sweet start, bitter finish.  Paired with aged sharp blue cheeses.

Devon says:  It's good, huh?

Imperial Stout:
Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch - Weasel (10.9%)
  Paired with aged Gouda and chocolate.

  From Mikkeller's Web Site: This imperial Oatmeal stout is brewed with one of the world’s most expensive coffees, made from droppings of weasel-like civet cats. The fussy Southeast Asian animals only eat the best and ripest coffee berries. Enzymes in their digestive system help to break down the bean. Workers collect the bean-containing droppings for Civet or Weasel Coffee. The exceedingly rare Civet Coffee has a strong taste and an even stronger aroma.

English BarleyWine:
Valley Brewing Company Old Inventory BarleyWine (11.3%)
  Paired with stinky blue cheese.

(photo courtesy of

Allison's Spic Cycle Buzz Mead 2005 (Unknown) 
  Made with Clover Honey and Champagne yeasts.

And that was the night. 

August 24, 2010

Borscht: Soup as Practice

Soup, I feel, is one of the easiest foods to make and the most forgiving thing on this good Earth.  Some vegetables, a little bit of stock or water, herbs, spices, salt and pepper, and you've got yourself a cozy little bowl of heaven.  The amount of each thing isn't even really that important as long as you taste along the way; in fact, I think it is probably a good practice to approach soup in this manner.  If you have a recipe, plumb it for ideas and then set it aside.  Use soup as a stepping stone to effective kitchen experimentation and enlightenment; try new combinations and new methods of adding and intensifying flavors.  Have fun.  

The worst thing that will happen is the dish might come across as bland or ugly, the first can be remedied with some salt and the worst of the second can be mitigated with a bit of clever plating.  

Making soup in this way is like playing with blocks; if you mess up nobody gets hurt, it can all be put back together again, and through the process maybe you stretch your abilities a little bit and become more familiar with your kitchen and your ingredients.  I wouldn't recommend this practice for something like pie dough or custard.  A slap-dash approach to either of these is like driving over a mountain with your eyes closed; you're liable to make a huge mess of things and somebody is going to have their day ruined. 

Borscht is a very simple soup that allows for experimentation while generally ending up tasting very good.  This version of borscht is basically red cabbage, beet, and potato in stock underpinned with diced mirpoix (onion, celery, and carrots), tomatoes, herbs, and spices.

Simple Borscht:

Olive Oil or Butter
1 Onion, diced
2 Cloves Garlic
2 Celery Sticks, diced
2 Carrots, diced
Other herbs or spices (red pepper flake, thyme, bay leaf, maybe some tarragon)
1 small head of red cabbage, cut into strips
1 or 2 red beets
1 or 2 waxy yellow or red potatoes (maybe do celeriac here, or parsnips, or parsley root, rutabega?)
1 lb. peeled and diced tomatoes (canned works well of course)
Vegetable Stock or water
Salt and Pepper to taste
Sour cream for serving

Sautée up the onion in olive oil or butter until well browned (20 minutes).  Add the garlic and other herbs or spices with the celery and carrot and sautée for a few minutes more.  Add in the cabbage, beets, potato, and tomato all at once with a hearty helping of salt and pepper.

Add enough stock and/or water to get the soup to your desired consistency.  If you like it more like a stew, add less, if you like a more brothy soup, add more. Bring to a boil then simmer covered until the beet is tender.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with a dollop of sour cream.

August 13, 2010

Sarah's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Summer has come to Santa Cruz in its standard form: fog and heavy mist.  "Welcome to Sunny California!": my bum.  Needless to say, every once in a while during the summer months the slim possibility of sun on the weekend is just not enough to sustain us.  For a little extra boost there are Sarah's cookies.

Sarah is the head cookie baker in our house.  A lot of the cooking we share but when it comes to baking cookies she just has some kind of special touch.  There's something about freshly made cookie dough and warm cookies right out of the oven that just turns me to mush.  These oatmeal cookies are her standby when she's in a rush to whip up something for a party or group get-together.

Sarah's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 Cup Butter
1 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Cups Flour
2 1/2 Cups Oatmeal (Quick Oats work best)
1 Cup Chocolate Chips (More or less depending on one's preference)

First, run the quick oats through a few pulses of a food processor so they are greatly reduces.  This will allow the cookies some texture while not making them too crunchy.

Cream together the butter and sugars.  Beat in the eggs - one at a time - until well incorporated.  Mix in the vanilla, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  Work in the flour and oatmeal in stages until all incorporated then work in the chocolate chips.  Chill the dough for about an hour in the fridge will you head the oven to 375F (Sarah doesn't chill the there you go).  Spoon cookie sized portions of dough onto lightly greased cookie sheets and bake for 10 - 12 minutes.  Because our oven temp is wonky Sarah likes to turn the sheets about half way through so each side of the tray cooks evenly.

What we're looking for in a done cookie is a little bit of squish in the center with lightly browned edges.  Once they come out of the oven let them sit on the tray for a minute or two to finish up, then lay them out on a cooling rack.  They'll firm up once they cool down.

Don't eat too many, or you may get sick.

August 7, 2010

Carrot and Parsley Soup

This week the CSA box presented us with carrots and parsley. Tons of both. Typically what happens is we'll use up the carrots, feed the carrot greens to the chickens (they're a little too bitter to use all at once and usually end up going south anyway) and pull our hair out trying to figure out what to put the parsley on/in before it gets wilty (which takes a while, but we don't usually use a lot of parsley).

This time we figured to just use up everything all at the same time in a soup. Ha! What follows is our successful attempt at delivering a tasty meal with what we had on hand.

Carrot and Parsley Soup

Olive Oil
1 Onion Diced
More onions if you've got 'em.
Herbs and Spices:
Garlic, Red Pepper Flake, Bay Leaf, Rosemary, Oregano
1 Bunch Carrots Roughly Chopped
1 Small Bunch Parsley Chopped
Veggie Stock
1/4 cup Rice (white works best for this soup, could also use red lentils, bulgur wheat, or another cracked grain)
Yogurt or Sour Cream for garnish

Saute the onion in the olive oil until browned slightly (15 - 20 minutes). Add the herbs and spices with some salt and pepper and cook a minute or two more. Toss in the carrots and the parsley and saute a few minutes to sweat the carrots.

Add in the stock and the rice and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer about 20 minutes, until the rice is tender. Taste for seasoning.

If you want to use brown rice instead of white don't add the rice with the stock into the soup pot. Instead, start a little earlier and cook the rice separately in stock or water until done then add it into the soup pot once it has had a chance to simmer and the carrots are tender.

You can have this soup rough like a stew or minestrone or you can blend it smooth. I like creamy soups so if given the choice I would blend it down with a stick blender (absolutely necessary in the kitchen if one likes creamy soups...a blender just does not cut the mustard).

Stir in some yogurt or sour cream into your bowl of soup before you serve it. Garnish with parsley to add some color.

Variation: Curried Carrot Soup
For the more ambitious crowd, one can forgo the French/Italian vein and exchange curry powder for the rosemary and oregano.

July 29, 2010

Traditional German Pumpernickel Bread

Ok. So. The River Street Cafe and Cheese Shop in Santa Cruz makes a loaf of traditional German style pumpernickel that retails $10 for a full loaf (maybe 3 lbs.), which you can find here. Now, when you see the recipe below you'll get why this thing is $10, it takes forever to make correctly. But oh it good. This is my first attempt at this style of bread and I have to say that I really did like how it turned out. I think it would be better if I could get my hands on some real pumpernickel flour, but it's really hard to find (even here in SC) so I've done what I can with what I'm allowed. Take a peak:

Traditional-like German-inspired Pumpernickel-ish Bread:

2 Cups Organic Rye flour (Organic is more likely to have the natural yeasts used to raise the bread; ideally this should be pumpernickel flour, which is more coarsely ground)
1 Cup white all purpose or whole wheat flour (if you can find pumpernickel flour then use finely ground rye flour here instead of white or whole wheat)
2 Tbs. bulgur wheat (bulgur is par-boiled cracked wheat berries, you could use any par-boiled grain here -- oats, buckwheat, rye)
2 Tbs. sunflower seeds
2 Tbs. flax seeds
1 tsp. salt
1 3/4 Cup warm water
1 tsp. olive oil

Sift together the flours, bulgur or cracked rye berries, seeds, and salt. Add in the water and the oil and mix all this together. You'll end up with something that is very sticky, this is ok. Lay down some parchment paper in the bottom of a medium sized bread pan and oil the sides so things are a little easier to remove later.

Spoon the dough into the prepared bread pan and smooth the surface. Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap and put the whole thing in a relatively warm place in the kitchen.

Let it sit for 24 to 48 hours. In the summer months you may find that after 24 hours the bread starts to push very insistently against the plastic wrap. If this happens before your two days are up pop the pan in the fridge and let it chill out there for the next day.

When you're ready preheat the oven to 225 F (very low) and place a pan of boiling water on the bottom-most rack. Unwrap the bread pan, re-wrap the bread in tin foil, and place it on the upper-most rack. This needs to "steam" for four hours (I know!). Raise the oven temp to 325 F and bake for another 40 minutes to brown the surface and the sides of the bread.

Let the bread cool slightly in the pan before you remove it. Peel off the parchment on the bottom and wrap the bread in a tea towel to sit overnight. DO NOT CUT INTO THE BREAD RIGHT AWAY. You've waited this long, you can wait a little bit longer.

After it's completely cool and has sat some more...cut in, spread some cream cheese all over it, and enjoy.

July 23, 2010

Chinese 5 - Spice Powder


clove (dingxiang)
fennel (xiaohuixiang)
sichuan pepper (huajiao)
star ainse (dahuixiang)
cassia bark (rougui)

5 Spice powder is made from cassia bark (a variation of cinnamon), fennel, clove, Sichuan pepper, and star anise. Each of these spices are pictured above. Different books have different recipes, but from what I can tell you basically take equal amounts of each spice, grind them up, and mix them together. If you are using a mortar and pestle, as I do, sometimes it's useful to dry fry the spices until they become fragrant before grinding. This process removes any water from the spice and makes them easier to grind. This is especially relevant for the cassia, clove, and star anise.

Sichuan pepper (which is easily found in Chinatown markets, but not sure about where else), usually contains a seed which is very bitter and may effect your spice mix in an unpleasant way. My books recommend removing any seeds before grinding, which I can offer, is an annoying and slow process.

One thing I kind of messed up is that you're supposed to grind the whole star anise, not just the seed. I only ground the seed and then actually read my book where they say to grind the whole thing and that the pod is actually more aromatic. Interesting, huh?

July 20, 2010

Bechamel and some variations

Ah...Bechamel. I love this stuff. It can either take no time at all and just be creamy and buttery or you can spend a bit more time and turn it into creamy, buttery, savory deliciousness. It is a pretty standard roux based sauce and can be taken in many different directions.

A roux is flour cooked in fat until it is a certain color (from "blonde" to dark) and is used to thicken hot liquids. What makes this sauce a bechamel (as opposed to an Espagnole or Veloute sauce, which are also thickened with roux) is the addition of milk (instead of some kind of meat stock).

Herb infused Bechamel:

1 Cup Milk (non fat is fine)
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
sprig of rosemary, thyme, sage, etc...
1 bay leaf
Roux: (More roux will make a thicker sauce, less roux will make a thinner sauce)
1 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. flour
Salt and Pepper to taste

First warm the milk in a medium saucepan until almost boiling. Toss in the onion, garlic, herbs, and the bay leaf and let all this steep in the hot milk for about 10 minutes.

In the mean time melt the butter in a separate pan until bubbly. Toss in the flour and whisk in to form a batter. This is your roux and forms the thickening agent for the sauce. Cook this however long you like while whisking nearly continuously. However, keep in mind that the darker the roux gets, the toastier your sauce will taste and the less efficient it will be at thickening your liquid. So, if you want a really dark roux, make a little bit more than you would otherwise so it thickens your sauce how you expect it to.

Pour in about half of the hot liquid while whisking (making sure to get into the corners of the pan). This will thicken very quickly; as it does add about another fourth of the milk. Do this one more time as the sauce thickens.

You're aiming for something like this. Season with salt and pepper and you're good to go.

Something I threw together:
This is a variation that I threw together for a crepe dinner I made Sarah for her birthday. Instead of using 100% milk as the liquid I combined 50% milk and 50% veggie stock. Before adding the flour to the butter I sauteed an extra clove of garlic and about 1 tsp. of red pepper flake. After the sauce had thickened I added an extra 2 Tbs. butter, about 2 Tbs. brandy, and 1/4 grated Romano cheese to finish it off. This went over a caramelized red onion, mushroom, and chard filled crepe. mmm.

Something Sarah threw together:
To go over some quick mushroom ravioli on one of our busier nights Sarah combined the leftover bechamel-y sauce from the crepe dinner with a few spoon fulls of our pizza sauce that we keep in the freezer. This was so much better than any marinara sauce we could have come up with.

June 14, 2010

Cream of Broccoli Sauce (soup?) over Homemade Pasta

Ah...homemade pasta. Pasta generally is a fantastic vehicle for all the weird stuff we end up getting in our CSA box and you get to create all sorts of fun sauces and flavors. Lately I've taken up making fresh pasta on the spot and I have to say that I don't know why I didn't start sooner. Pasta is one of the easiest and least fussy doughs you could make and if you have a pasta roller on hand the whole process is a snap.

Every Day Pasta:

1 cup all purpose flour
generous pinch of salt
2 eggs
1 Tbs tasty olive oil

Start with the whole "sift the flour with the salt and make a well in the center" thing. Crack the eggs into that well and pour the olive oil in with the eggs. Using a fork (or your fingers if you feel like being dirty) whisk up JUST the eggs and the oil and then slowly (ever so slowly) start to incorporate flour into the mix from the bottom and sides of the well. Do not rush. If you rush then you'll end up with a big sticky mess, which is fine, you can work through it, but you shouldn't have to.

Eventually everything should come together and you should have (probably) a slightly sticky dough. You'll be needing to knead the dough at this point so if you need more flour now is the time to add a bit (I'm sorry, lots of homonyms there). It's about 5-10 minutes of working the dough to get it to the right point.

And then roll away. I like to start it out with a rolling pin so it kinda fits into the largest setting at the start. Then I work my way down through the settings until I hit the smallest on the machine. I hear tell that if you were lazy at the kneading stage, rolling the dough finishes the process for you.

Now do whatever the hell you want with the dough. Make big noodles, small noodles, square noodles, round noodles. Panda shaped noodles. It's up to you.

And the sauce (Cream of Broccoli): For 1 Cup Liquid

1 head of Broccoli

1 Tbs Butter, Olive Oil, or a mix of the two
1/2 large Onion
1 Garlic clove
1/2 tsp. Red Pepper Flake (or more, who am I to say)
1 tsp. Salt
1 Tbs. Flour
1 Cup Milk or Stock or a mix (near boiling)
Parmesan and Black Pepper for finishing

Start the onion in the butter and let saute on low for a little bit. In the mean time blanch the broccoli in boiling water for just about 5 minutes or until slightly tender (I used the pasta water in this case).

Add the garlic, salt, and red pepper flake to the onion and saute for a minute more before adding the flour to this mix. Just let it cook for a minute or two to let the raw flour taste work itself out. This isn't a standard roux as there are vegetables in the way so cooking it too long will burn the flour.

Add about 1/3 cup of the heated liquid to the onion/flour mix while whisking vigorously. Make sure you work the liquid into the corners of the pan and get all the flour up off the bottom. As it thickens add more liquid, then whisk, thicken, and add more liquid until you've got it all in. Toss in the broccoli and blender everything smooth. Stick blenders work wonders in situations like this. Taste for salt and pepper and you're off to the races.

The sauce can wait as you cook the pasta in a lot of boiling water (more than you think would be necessary) for a few minutes.