Sunday, September 25, 2011

Flour Power

I collect flours. Or so it would seem.   

Blue corn meal? Yeah, I got that. Semolina? Yep, got it. And whole wheat. And buckwheat. And bread flour, and AP flour, and oat flour too.

What I don't got is a lot of recipes to use them all up. Bob's Red Mill has recipes on its website for all these flours, but some of them sound a bit, um, dry. Like Quinoa-Peanut Butter Cookies. Or High Fiber Crunch Cookies. Ouch.

Enter Gian Who Has A Recipe For Everything. And his grandmother does too, apparently, including a recipe for Buckwheat Pancakes from 1917. Gian says "the past is tangibly resurrected" by preparing old recipes. I agree, but I confess I tend to prepare them with a modern twist. So I took this recipe, which Gian likes to top with molasses (now THAT is old-fashioned!), and adapted it to my new, electric, non-stick waffle maker. Totally 21st century.

Most of the waffles I've made so far have been fairly light and airily crisp, though I have always thrown in a bit of whole wheat flour.  I knew that buckwheat waffles would be darker, of course, and perhaps a teensy bit denser, but I wasn't quite prepared for the gumminess of the batter. It really didn't have that it's-Sunday-morning-and-I-can't-wait-for-syruppy-waffles kind of vibe. At all. But I do love all things vintage, so I carried on.

The first few buckwheat waffles I made were a little buckwheat-y, so I needed a boost in the flavor department. As I eyed the bottle of molasses that Gian swore was great on top of the waffles, I was hit with an idea: put the molasses in the waffles.   The flavor was vastly improved, but the added sugar made the waffles stick to my non-stick waffle maker. Which is irritating in any century. Fortunately, someone invented cooking spray a few decades ago, so I used that.

Oooh, it's just like 1917. Only with soy milk.

Thick and gummy...

I added a tablespoon or two to the recipe (which I halved), and threw in a little allspice and ground ginger, too. I sprayed the bejeezus out of the waffle iron, and cooked the waffles a little past the green indicator light. They turned out pretty well, especially drowned in maple syrup, and had decent amounts of protein and fiber, since buckwheat is high in both. This is important for counteracting the 80 trillion grams of sugar in the syrup.  Something fruity, such as marmalade or a compote, would pair nicely with the deeper, darker flavor of the waffles.

But I'm not at all sure Gian's Sicilian grandmother was into fruity compotes.

These were made with the revised recipe, not the old-timey recipe.

**NB: I made these waffles again on October 23, with several major differences:
-I basically reversed the ratio of flours, using 3/4 C AP : 1/4 C buckwheat. I think this made the entire batter far less gummy and thick.
-I used 1/2 TBSP baking powder
-I used more oil-- probably in the range of 2-3 TBSP.
-I added an egg.
-I used a little less liquid (1 C soy milk). 
-I replaced the molasses with barley malt syrup. This is not because I think barley malt syrup is so great. It's because I paid nearly $6 for the bottle and so far have used a grand total of 2 tsp. 

These waffles were easier to work with, since the batter was thinner and less sticky. I still coated the waffle maker with cooking spray to be safe, but I suspect they would have been less likely to stick than the gooey ones.   The flavor was less buckwheat-y but still more intense than plain AP waffles would be, so it's 1/4 C buckwheat for the win.

Old-Timey Modern Buckwheat Waffles
adapted from Gian's Sicilian grandmother

1 C buckwheat flour
1/2 C AP flour
3 tsp baking powder 
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 TBSP canola oil, melted butter, or lard (hey, I said it was old-timey)
1 1/4 C milk, water, soy milk, or buttermilk (or a combination)
2 TBSP molasses
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
cooking spray

1. Preheat waffle maker.
2. Sift together flours, salt, spices, and baking powder.  
3. Add wet ingredients and mix well with a wire whisk, electric beaters, or stand mixer. You may need to add a few more tablespoons of water or milk to achieve a pourable consistency.
4. Spray waffle iron with cooking spray on both top and bottom. Fill iron with batter according to manufacturer's directions. Waffles will turn chestnut brown when done.
5. Top with maple syrup, butter, and/or fruit, as desired.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Family Feud

A Brief History of Italy
Northerners says risotto is made by dumping all the liquid into the pot at once and letting it cook without any fuss. Southerners says risotto is made by adding the liquid little by little and stirring every now and then.

A Brief History of My Family
My dad, being of southern Italian descent, taught us the slow, arduous method for making risotto. This is sometimes referred to as The Real Way.

Enter Adele
My dad's Significant Other is a Northerner. She is also an excellent cook. Her risotto comes out just fine. This makes enthusiasts of The Real Way uncomfortable.

I used The Real Way tonight to make a simple mushroom risotto. I realized, though, that I couldn't use the northern method until I figured out precisely how much liquid I needed, since adding too much would ruin the dish. I've never paid close attention to the amount, since I just kept adding some until the rice wouldn't absorb any more. So it turns out The Real Way is The Imprecise Way. Or The Lazy Way.

I usually use cremini mushrooms for this dish, though a number of varieties would work. Creminis are relatively inexpensive and easy to find, and add a bit more depth than button mushrooms. I used scallions in place of onions, partly because I had them in the fridge, and partly because I wanted a little extra texture and color in the dish. I used to make this dish with leeks, so I figured scallions were a reasonable substitute, but use whatever onion-esque option you have.

I also decided to throw in a little white wine this time, and it turned out to be one of the best risottos I've made. I used a very inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc I opened for another dish, and it was perfect. The flavor boost was especially helpful now that I don't use any parmesan, though of course wine adds a different note than salty cheese.

As I stood at the stove stirring the risotto, micro-managing the burner output, and adding Just Enough liquid, the thought creeped into my head that Real Way Risotto is a little high-maintenance. It can't be left alone for longer than a minute or two, because if it sticks to the bottom it's over. It can't get over-zealous liquid additions because if too much is added near the end it becomes soggy. Faintly, I could hear my dad's voice from my childhood in my head, high-pitched for dramatic effect: "I slaved all day over a hot stove, working my fingers to the bone to make this for you!"

And suddenly, I remembered the flavor of risotto we used to eat all the time: Real Way Risotto Infused With Guilt.

White Wine-Mushroom Risotto
The entire process should take about 30 minutes.

3/4 C arborio rice
1 3/4 C broth (vegetable or chicken)
1/4 C dry white wine
2 TBSP butter, divided
1 1/2 C sliced cremini mushrooms 
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 TBSP chopped parsley
salt and pepper, to taste
grated parmesan (optional)

1. Saute mushrooms: heat 1 TBSP butter in a pan over medium heat. Add sliced mushrooms. Cook until dark brown and mushrooms have released liquid. Leave just a little liquid in the pan. Sprinkle with a pinch or two of salt and pepper, and a little chopped parsley. Stir to combine. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. Heat remaining butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add scallions and cook 1 minute. Add rice and stir well to coat grains with butter. 
3. When grains are translucent, add approximately 1 cup of broth. Stir to incorporate, making sure no grains of rice stick to the bottom of the pan. Allow rice to simmer for several minutes, stirring occasionally, scraping bottom of pan.
4. When nearly all liquid has been absorbed (do NOT allow rice to dry out completely), add another 1/2 cup of broth. Repeat process as in step 3. 
5. When nearly all liquid has been absorbed, add wine. Proceed as before. 
6. When wine has absorbed, add remaining broth a little at a time. You may have a few tablespoonfuls left over. Cook until rice is al dente. Add mushrooms and a little more fresh parsley. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with parmesan, if desired.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Disaster Week

I had big plans for this week.

I came across a cookbook called A Taste of Provence: Classic Recipes from the South of France. Aim high, right? That's what I thought, too. So I put together a few recipes that I thought might complement each other well, and didn't involve buying an entire lamb to roast in my fireplace or something. I had most of the ingredients already, so off I went, naively. Funny how that's a French word.

First, I made Olive Bread. It sounds like one of those rustic loaves that go well with everything, including the extra olives and tiny bit of Gruyère I bought. It turned out to have a nice crust, as the recipe promised, but the interior was way too dense for, well, anything practical. It also had an overly, um, earthy, flavor, which I think is due to the "2 generous handfuls" of buckwheat flour in the dough. Normally I love directions such as these, since my favorite way to cook is to throw in aliddulladis and aliddulladat. But in this case, the buckwheat flour seemed to outflavor everything else-- not that there is much else in bread to add flavor-- and so in essence I made olive-studded hockey pucks.

While the bread rose about 20 times, I made an onion chutney to add a little spicy sweetness to the plate of olive bread, cheese, and little nibbly vegetables I wanted for lunch. This was no chutney, I am sure. The recipe calls for WAY too much cayenne pepper, which makes the entire concoction super-hot and not at all calming the way fruit chutneys should be. The onions never stopped tasting oniony and just stunk up my house all day. The honey did nothing to sweeten the deal for me, and while the whole thing could have made the perfect liquid to soften the hockey pucks, the taste was vile enough to make me eat the bread plain.

The next day, I made roasted chicken and a Provençal reduction with lemon, white wine vinegar, and honey. In theory, all those things go well with poultry. Lemon chicken, after all, is practically a new classic. But this sauce was a bit too vinegary and didn't taste at all like something that just came out of an oven in the South of France. Edible, I suppose, but not great. I made a pumpkin gratin but with butternut squash as a side. This bizarre dish turned out to be little more than rice and chunks of squash baked in a dish in the oven for a while. Barely edible, and ugly to boot. The recipe swore the squash would get all caramelized and gooey and the whole thing would be soft and lovely. It was so not lovely.

To use up the other half of the squash, I tried a new recipe from Vegetarian Times. So far, I've had pretty good luck with their dessert recipes, which makes sense since most desserts don't call for a side of beef. This was an Indian Pudding recipe, which the recipe says isn't very pretty but tastes great and has been made in New England for ages. Which figures, since Native Americans have lived there for about that long. Anyway. Cinnamon, nutmeg, a dash of ginger, a little molasses and brown sugar would all add up to a pumpkin pie-esque dessert, or so I thought. Instead of bread or flour, the recipe calls for cornmeal. I only had blue cornmeal, which worked fine and is indeed ugly as promised. But since making this dessert, I've decided that everything made with cornmeal turns into cornmeal mush. So Mush Pudding became Disaster Number 5 this week. 

The cookbook is now listed for sale on This might be the culinary equivalent of selling a car you know is a lemon to some unsuspecting schmuck, but hey, that's what reviews are for.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bolinas Blackberry Pie

My mother used to read Blueberries for Sal to me before bed when I was small.  It was one of my favorite books, in part because eating my way through a bush of blueberries as Sal does seemed like a brilliant idea, and in part because the mother-child mix-up that happens is classic.

This Labor Day weekend, I drove out to rural Marin County to see my dad, and relieve him of some blackberries which grow [a little too] wild in his yard. He hacked at the brambles with a machete while my dog ran amok and I got lost (practically) picking berries. I imagine blackberry bushes are a little more violent than blueberry bushes, since Sal's hands and legs didn't look like mine when she, the bears, and her mom were done picking. Bear claws, though, are pretty near the top of the Potentially Damaging hierarchy.

Since I didn't have to compete with bears, I gathered about nine cups of blackberries. That doesn't include all the ones I ate as I picked, or the ones I dropped as my skin snagged on a thorn and I cursed the entire universe. I gave about a cup to my dad-- I wasn't being stingy. He didn't want more -- and took the rest home to bake in a pie.

I wound up tossing out about a cup of berries this morning, since some were just past their peak. Apparently, blackberries' peak lasts about 3 seconds. Others just got crushed from the weight of the other eight cups stacked on top of them. I froze about a cup to use in smoothies later, so used about six cups of berries in the pie.  I didn't have an official blackberry pie recipe to use, so I combined elements from a few different pie and fruit tart sources, and created what just might become an annual tradition.

For the crust, I used a recipe from Vegetarian Times I'd cut out ages ago but hadn't used yet. The ingredients are simple and the method is easy-- basically, everything is thrown in the food processor and pulsed until the dough comes together. I've already written an ode to the Food Processor (Wo)Man for this very thing; it turns out a perfect crust every time. My lattice was a little gangly and uneven, but for my first attempt, it was Not Bad At All.

For the filling, I started with brown sugar, and lots of it.  My dad and I both noticed that the berries were not as sweet as they've been in years past, which my dad attributes to the lack of warm sunny days this summer. I think it may also be that the brambles are being choked by the two other invasive vines spewing over from other people's yards. (Several blackberry species have also been deemed invasive here in California. Eh, potayto, potahto...) Property lines and semantics aside, I added a little cornstarch to thicken the soupy mess the berries were becoming, and a little lemon juice to brighten up the whole thing.  This is also what goes into the filling for the Rustic Fruit Tart I wrote about. Except with blackberries. Not plums.

I blind-baked the crust to prevent it from getting soggy from berry juice. The problem with this method is that the top edges of the crust brown long before all the rest of it, and sometimes even burn before the pie is ready. The logical solution would be to blind-bake it for less time, but then the bottom wouldn't be baked enough to stay, well, crusty. I might try covering the edges with extra parchment paper next time, with some kind of clamping or folding trick to make the paper stay in place over the edge.  

All things considered, the pie is perfect for the end of summer. It even has tan lines.   

Fine. I admit it. The crust recipe didn't make enough dough for crust AND lattice.

I know! I was a little worried about the whole machete/dog/me combination, too! But I made it out alive. And so did the dog.

Bolinas Blackberry Pie

*If you choose to create a lattice (or any other) design on top, you will need to a) make 1.25 times this amount of dough (use extra water instead of 1/4 egg); b) set aside a small quantity of the dough as you begin Step 5a.  This way, you will create extra dough for the lattice, and still have the original quantity for the crust. 
** Pre-bake times have been adjusted to account for my mistakes. You may need to add another minute or two onto your time.

For the crust
1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1 TBSP sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick (1/2 C) cold, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 egg yolk
1/4 C ice water

1. Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in food processor a few times to combine. Add butter, and pulse 5-6 times, or until mixture resembles coarse sand. 
2. Beat egg yolk and ice water in small bowl with fork. Add to flour mixture in food processor. Pulse just until dough comes together. 
3. Transfer dough to piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap. Press into a flat disk. Wrap tightly and refrigerate at least one hour (or overnight). 
4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 
5a. On a well-floured surface, roll out dough into a circle approximately 1/4" thick and 14" in diameter for a 9" pie plate. Lay crust over pie plate, pressing lightly into bottom and sides. Create a fluted design, if you wish, around the edges by lightly pinching the overhang. 
5b. Also roll out dough reserved for lattice into rectangular shape, 1/4" thick and 11" wide. Cut rectangle into long strips. Set aside.
6. Place parchment paper over the crust (you can cut a circle to fit the bottom, or you can lay strips across the crust that overlap) and weigh down the paper with dried beans. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove beans and parchment paper and bake for another 5 minutes. Top of crust should be just beginning to brown.
7. Reduce heat to 350 degrees.

For the filling
6 C ripe blackberries, washed 
3 TBSP cornstarch
2/3 C brown or granulated sugar (adjust slightly according to sweetness of berries)
1 TBSP lemon juice
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest (optional)

1. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir gently to combine, coating berries well.
2. Pour berry mixture into pre-baked pie crust. Arrange lattice strips on top.
3. Bake for 30 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly. 
4. Cool on wire rack for as long as you can wait. 
5. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Version 4.0/strained

Soup is not my favorite thing. The ratio of broth to good stuff is way too high, and quite frankly that makes me feel as though I'm getting cheated.  I've never understood why people order soup at a restaurant, since they pay top dollar for what amounts to little more than a bowl of water and salt. Besides, soup is prisoner food-- picture any movie set before the last few decades and the prisoners eat nothing but stale bread and a bowl of broth.

But then I found someone else's food blog, called "Culinary Adventures of a New Wife," and the blogger posted a recipe she adapted from a cookbook of Oprah's. Her husband loved it, and it combined two of my favorite flavors (coconut and green curry) so I figured it was worth at least one go-round. It also seemed to be loaded with good stuff, which I reasoned must lower the broth-to-stuff ratio to a non-prisoner level.

The first time I made it, a friend was in town visiting, so I followed the recipe almost exactly, leaving out only the fish sauce and chicken because a) I don't like fish sauce. And with shrimp cooked in the broth, how much more fish flavor does a soup really need? b) chicken and fish sauce are mutually exclusive; c) having both chicken and shrimp in the soup is gluttonous. I thought it turned out pretty well, and my friend claimed to like it, too, though there is the possibility that she was just being polite.

The second time I made it, I used extra-firm tofu instead of either chicken or shrimp. I pan-fried the cubes first in a little of the chili sauce that goes in the soup, so they formed a nice crust. Extra-firm tofu doesn't have that slimy-gummy texture that offends so many people, but even so, the crust was just extra insurance against gumminess. The cubes stood up really well in the soup, staying cube-like and not crumbling to bits as they could have with softer tofu. Plus, tofu absorbs flavors so nicely, so after soaking in the broth for a while, they are perfect. The other advantage to using tofu is it doesn't reek of fish the next day when you eat it for lunch.

As I ate the leftovers, though, I wanted more stuff in the soup. The noodles are one of my favorite stuffs, so I just cooked another bundle and threw them in. And now that I have re-read the recipe for the zillionth time in preparation for posting here, I realize the recipe calls for 2 bundles, which is why I didn't think there were enough noodles with just the one. Well done, me.

I didn't strain the sautéed bits from the broth the second time. I especially liked the cilantro leaves, which I left nearly whole, in the broth, though it was less aesthetically appealing that way, so strain--- or don't-- according to your preference.

I am still surprised by how much I like this soup, and how many equally good variations of it there are. It even fills me up, unlike prisoner soup.

*Note: to make this entirely vegan, substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth and replace chicken/shrimp with tofu. Omit fish sauce.

Thai Coconut-Curry Soup
adapted from "Culinary Adventures of a New Wife", who adapted it from Oprah

4 C chicken or vegetable stock
5 garlic cloves, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 TBSP Thai green curry paste
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cumin (I used about half this much)
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns (I just threw in some ground black pepper)
3/4 C loosely packed cilantro leaves (plus more for garnish), chopped
2 rounds vermicelli glass noodles, cooked according to package directions
1 C unsweetened coconut milk (can use light coconut milk, but broth will be a little thinner)
1/2 C chopped green onion
1 C sliced or quartered mushrooms
1 chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 lb medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1 package extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4-3/4 tsp chili-garlic sauce

(recipe also calls for 2 TBSP lime juice and 2 tsp brown sugar, but I used neither. So I guess I didn't follow the recipe quite as closely as I thought...)

1. In a large pot over medium-high heat, combine stock, garlic, ginger, curry paste, coriander, cumin, pepper, and cilantro. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. 
2. Meanwhile, if using tofu, heat 1 TBSP oil and 1/2 tsp chili-garlic sauce in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add tofu. Stir occasionally, allowing brown crust to form on all sides (approximately 5-8 minutes). Set aside.
3. Strain broth through a sieve and discard solids. Return broth to pot, adding coconut milk, half the green onions, and shrimp, chicken, or tofu. Return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken and/or shrimp are fully cooked (about 5-8 minutes). 
4. Add chili-garlic sauce. I add noodles to pot here, but these can be added to individual bowls according to taste, if desired.  Garnish with remaining green onion and cilantro.

Obviously, I don't use 5 cloves of garlic.

I heart miniature cans of coconut milk: none goes to waste.

I heart these, too.