Saturday, July 28, 2007

Roasted Chickpeas with Cherry Couscous and Cucumber-Lime Raita

Nina Roux sent me this kick-ass cookbook for my birthday,The Flexitarian Table. The raita and chickpeas are the first things I have made from it, and they are both to be repeated soon. This is probably the best way I have ever eaten chickpeas - they are very nutty tasting. And the onions get nice and sweet during the roasting. I ended up altering the recipes a bit. For one thing, I didn't have some of the ingredients called for in the book (for example, I only had ground cumin - no cumin seeds.) I also have a very difficult time following recipes when I am cooking (baking is a different story), so there were no measuring spoons out when I made these.

Cucumber Lime Raita

- cucumber, seeded, peeled, and chopped
- dash of olive oil
- lime juice
- cumin
- coriander
- salt
- Greek yogurt (I had fat-free Greek yogurt, and honestly couldn't tell)
- black pepper

Combine all of the above ingredients, seasoning to taste.

Cherry Couscous

- couscous (I used Israeli-style)
- dried tart cherries
- salt
- butter

Cook couscous according to package instructions, but add cherries, salt, and butter to the water before it comes to a boil.

Roasted Chickpeas

- 1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- olive oil
- lemon juice
- 2 bay leaves, broken in half
- cumin
- turmeric
- sweet paprika
- cayenne pepper
- fresh flat leaf parsley

Oven to 400 degrees. In an oven-proof skillet, place chickpeas, onion, oil, lemon juice, bay leaves, cumin, turmeric, paprika, cayenne, and a dash of salt. Stir over medium heat until sizzling, then transfer to oven for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Lemon Blueberry Bread

There has been a lot less baking going on around here lately because the weather was actually acting like summer. As a result I was spending way more time on my bike , and way less time in my kitchen. But last week, after the seventh straight day of rain, I found myself pulling out the butter, sugar, flour, and eggs again, and this bread is the result. (Luckily the sun returned today, and I just got back from a nice ride by the lake.)

Lemon Blueberry Bread

- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 1/4 cup sugar
- zest of about 2 lemons
- 2 eggs
- 8 ounces yogurt (I happened to have fat-free Greek style at home and used that; it worked great)
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups blueberries; I used frozen

Oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Mix first four ingredients together in medium bowl. In bowl of mixer, beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add lemon zest, then the eggs one at a time, and vanilla. Alternately add flour and yogurt, beginning and ending with flour. Mix in blueberries. Batter will be thick. Pour into pan and bake for 55 to 65 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Cover in foil part way through if cake appears to be browning too quickly. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove and cool completely on wire rack.

This bread (cake) is nice and lemony, slightly tart from the yogurt, and with the texture that I always hope for in a blueberry muffin. I used frozen wild blueberries, and they did the trick nicely. It keeps well for a day or two, but loses the slightly crunchy crust (my favorite part) that it has coming out of the oven.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Pillows A'Plenty

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I've decided that "Pillows" are my signature dish. I did some experimenting this Fourth of July, thinking I'd monitor reactions on the party guinea pigs. Well, that didn't work out because they all disappeared the moment I set them down! I'll take that as a good sign.

I experimented with my very first whole wheat pastry crust, and it's delicious. I prefer it with the savory pillows, but I think extra sugar on top would make a difference on the sweet.

These are really easy to make, and easy to experiment with. The fillings need some tweaking, I admit. As usual, I didn't find the EXACT ingredients I wanted; our little grocery store didn't have Greek feta, so I was forced to try Mexican feta, which is incredibly bland, and not feta like at all.

Also, the ricotta and sour cream blend was delicious, but wasn't as flavorful as I would have liked.

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But aren't they ADORABLE?!

Start with two batches of whole wheat pastry dough (one batch makes about 13 Pillows, so if its for a party, two batches will make enough for everyone.) I made each batch separately (rather than doubling the recipe, then splitting it) - but I'm sure it would work either way.

Whole Wheat Pastry Dough
7 Tabs butter (I used salted)
1 1/4 C. whole wheat pastry flour
1/8 tsp. salt
2-3 Tabs. ice water

Start with very cold butter (I stuck mine in the freezer for a while). Have your ice-water at the ready. Add flour and salt to a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Add butter one Tab at a time, and pulse processor until the butter is incorporated, and crumbled into pea sized bits. Add ice water one Tab at a time, pulsing, until the dough starts combining and forming a ball.

Remove dough from processor, shape into a ball, then wrap in cellophane, and pat into a disc shape. Refrigerate for about a half an hour.

Prepare fillings.

Roll out flat until about 1/8 inch thickness. Using a cutter, cup, martini shaker, or whatever you have on hand, cut into discs about 4 inches in diameter. Each batch makes about 13 discs.

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Spinach and Feta Filling
2 cups frozen spinach (I used bag variety, but the packaged type would do)
1 1/2 cup feta cheese (give or take, separated)
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook spinach in microwave (or stovetop) until tender. Drain, and squeeze out as much water as you can. Add 1 cup of feta cheese (setting aside 1/2 cup) to spinach, stirring together with a fork (not too blended).

Spinach Feta Pillows
1 egg white (beat gently with a fork)
1 Tab kosher or sea salt

Place a pinch of plain feta cheese in the upper half of a dough disc. Spoon about a tablespoon of spinach and feta mixture on top, then fold disc in half. Seal edge by dipping a fork into egg white, and pressing fork around the edges.
Once all pillows are assembled, brush the top of each with egg white, and sprinkle with salt. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

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Blueberry Ricotta Filling
1-2 cups frozen blueberries
1/2 cup sugar (separated)
2 cups ricotta cheese
1/2 cup sour cream (optional)

Place frozen blueberries in a bowl and stir in 1/4 cup sugar, until blueberries are coated. Combine ricotta and sour cream. Add half of blueberry mixture, and stir until combined, gently squeezing juice from berries.

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Blueberry Ricotta Pillows
1 egg white
1-2 Tab sugar

Taking one dough disc at a time, spoon a small amount of ricotta mixture into the upper half of the disc, then add about 1/2 Tab blueberries, then fold disc in half. Dip fork into egg white, and seal the edges as above. Pierce the top of each pillow a few times with a toothpick or skewer, brush the tops with egg white, then sprinkle sugar on top. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.

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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Woolly Coconut-Lime Birthday Cake

This was my birthday cake. I had been craving lime and coconut, I think because I associate those flavors with trips to Mexico and summer was nowhere to be seen when my birthday rolled around a few weeks ago. This cake turned out to be exactly what I wanted, and I won't change a thing the next time I have an excuse to make it. The cream cheese frosting wasn't too sweet, and it was heaven with the lime curd (I was having an impossible time not eating spoonfuls of each while waiting for the crumb coat to chill.) The cake actually tasted of coconut too (just like the recipe promised) without any annoying coconut flakes in the batter itself. The half-toasted sweetened coconut smashed on the outside was actually WAY better than I was expecting. It was chewy-crunchy, which added a great contrast to the cake, but it also added a lot more flavor than I had anticipated.

(It is warm outside, my windows are open, I have wobbly-tired legs from a fifty mile bike ride today, and I am listening to Neil Diamond while I write this. Meow.)

I had searched high and low for a recipe that used coconut milk instead of "cream of coconut" (which I find a little scary - it contains several mystery ingredients), but I wasn't having much luck. I was surprised when I saw that the Cooks' Illustrated recipe even called for the stuff, but then they explained themselves (yay Cooks' Illustrated!). Apparently when they were testing recipes with coconut milk they had wildly varied results. With a little research they discovered that from can to can, coconut milk's fat content can vary as much as 33%. Hence, the cream of coconut.

Martha's Lime Curd, (slightly modified) from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

- 8 large egg yolks
- 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp lime juice
- 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp lemon juice (I actually used more lime juice - I only had 1 lemon)
- zest of 2 limes
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 1/4 sticks cold butter, cut into pieces (10 Tbsp)(I used salted)

Put yolks, juice, zest and sugar in heavy saucepan. Whisk well to combine, then cook over medium-high heat, constantly stirring with a wooden spoon until mixture coats back of spoon and is 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer (about 8-12 minutes).

Remove from heat. Stir in salt. Add butter pieces gradually, stirring until mixed well. Press through sieve into bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing onto surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate at least one hour.

Coconut Cake, (modified slightly) from Baking Illustrated.

- 2 1/4 cups (9 ounces) cake flour (I used 9 ounce AP flour)
- 1 egg
- 5 egg whites
- 3/4 cream of coconut (Coco Lopez)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tsp coconut extract
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 sticks butter (12 Tbsp), softened but cool, cut into 12 pieces
- 2 cups packed sweetened shredded coconut

Oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

In a large measuring cup, mix egg and egg whites with a fork, then mix in cream of coconut, water, and extracts.

In bowl of mixer, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add butter one piece at a time, and mix until resembles coarse meal with no pieces bigger than a pea, about 2 - 2 1/2 minutes.

With mixer running, add a cup of the liquid mixture. Beat on med-high until fluffy, about 45 seconds. With mixer still running, add remaining liquid in steady stream over about 15 seconds. Scrape down bowl and beat for another 15 seconds.

Divide batter between pans. Batter will be thick - spread with spatula. Bake for about 30 minutes, until toothpick is clean. Remove cakes, and toast coconut spread on baking sheet for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until half of coconut is golden, half is still white.

Cool cakes on wire racks, remove from pans after 10 minutes to finish cooling.

Ina Garten's Cream Cheese Frosting, (slightly modified) from the Barefoot Contessa at Home

- 1 pound cream cheese at room temperature
- 2 sticks butter at room temperature (I used salted)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 pound powdered sugar

Beat together everything except the sugar. When it is well combined, add the sugar, and beat until smooth.

Assemble and eat! (I put a thin coat of frosting on the bottom layer before the lime curd.)