Saturday, February 28, 2015

Spiced Cranberry-Oat Bars

It was a cold day in February. I had a hankering for Smitten Kitchen's Cranberry Crumb Bars with Mulling Spices, but I wanted them to be more wholesome and breakfast-y so that I could eat them at any time with at least a modicum of respectability. I increased the cranberry content and added oats, flax, walnuts, and a splash of Grand Marnier. The results made for a toothsome snack that delights the tongue and sticks to the ribs. Tender oat cookie dough encases a tart, fruity filling that adds color to the wintriest of days.


for a 9 x 13 baking pan

Ingredients

 

Crumb


2 sticks cold butter
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups oats
a few healthy shakes of flax (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup sugar
dash salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon or ginger (depending on whether you want your bars sweet or snappish)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice
1 egg

Filling

 

1/2 cup walnuts
zest from one orange
juice from half an orange
splash Grand Marnier (optional; if you don't use this, use the juice of the remaining orange half)
4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch 

Process


Line your 9 x 13 baking pan with parchment paper and butter the parchment and the sides of the pan.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Filling first. Toast the walnuts in a pan until golden-brown and fragrant. Grind them or finely chop them in a food processor. Combine all the other filling ingredients, then add them to the food processor. Pulse until the cranberries are coarsely chopped. Put aside.

Now for the crumb. Combine the flour, oats, flax, sugar, salt, baking powder, and spices. Work in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse sand with deliciously fattening pebbles. I cut the butter into tablespoon-sized squares and crumble them with my fingers. Yes, the Tipsy Crumpet's fingers work their way into all her culinary creations. Sometimes, they even stay there, as in the unfortunate case of a bowl of pickles into which the tip of my index finger was hacked. . . and never found again. It was almost worth it! But no finger tips will make it into your final product, because now, all you need to do is crack the egg and massage it into the batter. Yes, it's a little awkward.

Now, pat half, or slightly more than half, of the batter into the pan. It will be a bit crumbly, but trust that it will coalesce into a shortbread-like crust during its incubation in the oven. Spoon the filling onto the batter and spread it so that it's even. Pat the rest of the batter on top.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Cool on a rack, then cut into bars.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Curried Veggie Pie with Buttermilk Crust

Someone gave me a bag full of parsnips. "What will I make with these?" I asked myself. My love of all foods encased in dough caused me to Google "parsnip pie"; a recipe popped up that I tweaked to my liking. The result was a deep, creamy pie full of veggies, cashews, and raisins encased in a tender crust washed in egg and sprinkled with black sesame seeds. Perfect comfort food for a cold winter's night.


for a 9.5-inch pie dish

Ingredients

 

Crust

 

1 1/4 cup white flour
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
salt and pepper
2 tsp dried oregano
2 sticks cold butter, sliced
splash or two cold buttermilk
egg (for the wash)
black sesame seeds (for sprinkling on top; optional)

 

Filling

 

4 parsnips, sliced thinly
4 carrots, sliced thinly
8 shallots, chopped
1 cup frozen peas
4 small golden potatoes, diced
1/3 cup cashews
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp curry powder
1 1/4 cups whole milk
4 oz grated sharp cheddar
salt and pepper

Process

 

Crust

 

Sift flours and add salt, pepper, and oregano. Cut in the sliced butter (I usually crumble it in my hands until the flour is uniformly coarse, with some pieces as big as peas). Add the buttermilk a splash at a time, mixing with your hands until the dough comes together in a ball. Divide the ball into two, flatten into discs, and wrap each disc in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (or freeze for later use).


Filling

 

Place parsnips, carrots, potatoes, and shallots into a large pot or Dutch oven. Cover with water and heat until the water comes to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes then drain the veggies, saving 1 1/4 cups of the stock.

While the veggies are simmering toast the nuts on a pan over high heat until they are golden-brown (a little burnt is okay).

In your pot, melt the butter. Add the flour and curry powder and stir for two minutes. Add the veggie stock and the milk. Simmer for two minutes, stirring until the roux becomes uniformly thick. Remove from heat and add the cheese (it's okay to keep the pan on the heat for a minute or so if the cheese doesn't melt; I use Grafton cheddar, which is particularly resistant to the charms of fire). Stir until the cheese dissolves to make a thick, creamy sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the veggies, peas, cashews, raisins, and cilantro. Mix well. Your kitchen will be the envy of all your neighbors as they inhale the warm Spice Islands aroma.

Let the mixture sit as you roll out the pie crust.

Preheat the oven to 400. 

Place one of your discs on a large piece of parchment paper. Place another large piece of parchment paper on top. Roll out the disc until it fits in your pie pan as the bottom crust. Poke a few holes in the crust with a fork, place some pie weights on top, and bake the crust for 10-15 minutes, until it begins to turn brown.

Meanwhile, roll out the remaining disc in the same way.

Allow the crust to cool (20 minutes is okay). Pour in the filling. Place the top crust on top and pinch along the edges. Hopefully, everything fits like a dream. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up the top crust.

With a large knife, slice from the center of the top crust to the middle of the crust. Do this in a circle all around the crust. You'll have 6-8 slices radiating from the center of the crust to its middle. It will look fancy and delicious, like a pie in a stock photo. Beat the egg and brush it on top of the crust (I use my hands; the Tipsy Crumpet has no pastry brush). Sprinkle liberally with black sesame seeds. Your pie looks stunning!

Place the pie in the oven, but wait! Be sure there's a layer of aluminum foil on the bottom rack so that you don't have any burning pools of curry smoking up your kitchen as the pie begins to bubble. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the curry simmering beneath it. If you've refrigerated the pie longer than 30 minutes (you can leave it in the refrigerator overnight), bake for 40 minutes.

Remove and dig in!



Notes


  • You can use any combination of veggies you like for this recipe. Next time, I'm going to sub 1 cup each of chopped cabbage, small broccoli florets, and small cauliflower florets for the parsnips. The parsnips tasted better to me over time (this pie ages well and will taste just as good, if not better, five days after baking), but at first, their sweetness seemed to clash with the savoriness of the other veggies. Green beans sliced into manageable pieces would also be killer in this pie.
  • I used to enjoy a similar pie at Sally Lunn's, an English tea shop in Princeton, NJ that has since closed. I added the raisins in homage to Lunn's. 
  • You could easily make this pie vegan by subbing coconut milk for the regular milk; in fact, this might work even better with the curry. I didn't taste the cheese at all after baking, so you could probably use another Tbsp of flour as a substitute. 

Verdict


5 stars. This is wholesome and winsome, with flavors to die for. The crust perfectly complements the spiced veggies in their curry cream, and a small slice goes a long way. This is a winter dinner to last all week.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Bittersweet Nutella Cake with Frangelico

A party for a European friend. . . what to make? Europeans love chocolate. Europeans love hazelnuts. Europeans love boozing it up in style. One of my favorite candy bars is Ritter-Sport's whole hazelnuts in dark chocolate. And so this cake I'd been dying to make for months sashayed to the top of my recipe pile, and I'm very glad it did. The cake has no sugar and no flour, but you'll never miss those ingredients because it engulfs an entire tub of Nutella, has one delicious cup of ground hazelnuts and one fragrant cup of toasted whole nuts, and uses an obscene amount of high-quality chocolate. It is sprinkled liberally with Frangelico when still warm so that the liqueur infuses the body of the cake and renders it lusciously moist. All of a sudden, Americans don't look so classless after all!


lightly adapted from Nigella Lawson's Nutella cake

Ingredients

 

Cake


6 eggs, separated
1 pinch salt
9 Tbsp butter, softened
13-oz jar of Nutella
1 Tbsp Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur)
1 cup hazelnuts, finely ground into meal
4 oz bittersweet chocolate (dark is good--70 percent isn't too bitter for this recipe)

Ganache and Topping


1 cup whole hazelnuts
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp Frangelico
5 oz bittersweet chocolate

Process



Preheat the oven to 350.

In a double boiler or rude approximation (pan within a larger pan in which water boils), melt the chocolate. Remove from heat when almost melted, stir until melted, and allow to cool.

Beat the egg whites and salt until the whites are stiff but still wet.

In a separate bowl, combine the yolks, butter, Nutella, Frangelico, and ground hazelnuts. Whisk until velvety smooth. Add a spoonful of the egg whites, and then add the rest of the egg whites gently, one-third at a time.

Liberally butter a 9-inch springform pan. Pour in the batter and bake for 30-40 minutes. The center of the cake will still be wobbly, but the cake will smell done (and heavenly), and the sides will have begun to pull away. Place the cake, still in pan, on a rack to cool. Poke holes in the cake with a toothpick or skewer. Sprinkle Frangelico on top (or pour some into your cupped hand and pat it onto the cake, as I awkwardly do). You may want to do this a few times to really infuse the cake.

A few hours later. . . 

Toast the whole hazelnuts in a pan over high heat. Remove from heat when the nuts smell fragrant and have begun to brown. Peel the skins if you like by rubbing the nuts in a towel. I don't mind the skins, but I remove some for a varied appearance.

Chop the chocolate, then heat the chocolate, cream, and Frangelico gently in a saucepan. Once the chocolate is melted, whisk until the consistency is uniform and the ganache shiny.

Unmold the cake, but leave the bottom of the cake pan be, as cake and bottom are codependent at this point and need one another for structural integrity. Spread the ganache over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Once the hazelnuts are fully cool, top the cake with the nuts.

Cut and serve.


Notes

 

  • I pulled the cake out of the oven after 35 minutes, and I think it would have been fine after 30. The cake will settle in on itself and turn into a delightfully moist solid once removed from the heat.
  • I had ganache troubles that may have stemmed from my unorthodox mixing methods: I heated a large lump of chocolate using my double-boiler method and then added the cold heavy cream and Frangelico. The ganache did not mix well and was drippy and lumpy; an unsightly yellowish oily substance trickled into the springform pan gutter once I spread the ganache on the cake. I refrigerated the cake and then wiped out the gutter. The taste was fantastic, the cake looked great, and no one noticed anything amiss, but I wonder if omitting the cream and Frangelico and simply using the melted chocolate wouldn't be just as good. If you've already Frangelicoed the cake, it will be boozy enough. I think you could go this route without harming your dessert.
  • I used El Rey chocolate, one of my favorite brands. El Rey is so fancy, it's sold in a special section at Whole Foods devoted to REALLY snooty shoppers. El Rey chocolate is single-sourced and superior to most other brands--just press it to your nose and inhale, like I always do, to the disgust of my fellow shoppers, and you'll smell the difference. I used 71 percent for the cake and a blend of 71 percent and 58 percent for the ganache. I think I could have gone with all-71 percent without making the cake unpalatable. My cake had a slight bitter tang that worked to render it a sophisticated, adult dessert rather than a saccharine confection.
  • If you are having a Frangelico crisis and are facing an empty bottle, you have my permission to use rum.
  • At the party, a chocolate hater tried the cake and ate an entire piece. That is the kind of cake it is.
  • My photography skills are substandard, so my cake slice photos turned out wretchedly, but here's a close-up of the crumb of this cake. Moist, moist, moist!

Verdict


5 stars.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Smoky Vegetarian Pepperoni Rolls

It was the Super Bowl! Time for some snacks. These rolls are based on the pepperoni rolls native to West Virginia, but they have a twist: instead of meat pepperoni, they have the veggie kind, and instead of regular cheese, they have smoked. This year, I added herbs and spices for a flavorful bite. You'll want to dip these in pasta sauce--I like fra diavolo or puttanesca; something with an edge. This recipe makes enough for a party, but if you're making rolls for one or two, you may want to halve the recipe.


makes about 24 rolls

 

Ingredients 

 

3 cups water
1 Tbsp sugar 
2 packets yeast
1 1/2 Tbsp salt
6 1/2 cups white flour
olive oil
cornmeal
2 packages veggie pepperoni (I prefer Yves)
4 cups shredded smoked provolone
ground black pepper
red pepper flakes
dried basil
dried oregano


Process


Dough


Heat the water in a saucepan until it is wrist temperature. Add the sugar and yeast. Let sit for 10 minutes.

In a bowl, combine flour and salt. Mix with yeast water. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. I like to coat my hands with olive oil as I'm kneading. When the dough is pliable and smooth and responds when poked, with that living quality yeast dough takes on, coat it with olive oil, pat some around the inside of the bowl, and let rise. I like to put a damp cloth over the bowl and set it in a barely-warmed oven. The rising should take 1-1/2 hours, until the dough has doubled in bulk.

Once the dough has risen into a puffy mass, punch it down and roll it up again. Divide into four rounds. At this point, you can save the dough for later by coating each round in olive oil, sliding it into a one-gallon plastic bag, sealing the bag TIGHTLY, and putting the bag in the refrigerator. You want to make sure to seal the bags oh-so-tightly because, any gap, and you'll open your refrigerator to an oozing dough monster that has snaked out and expanded to engulf other food items. You may want to open the fridge and punch down the dough in each bag every so often until the dough has chilled into submission.

Pepperoni Rolls


40 minutes before you want to bake your rolls, set your oven to 500. Put your pizza stone, pizza pan, or other pizza-baking device in the oven so that it heats up and gets all ready to produce a crispy crust for you.

Get out your grated cheese, your pepperoni, and your spices. If you wish, divide pepperoni into four piles.

Obtain a large sheet of parchment paper and lay it on a flat surface. Sprinkle plenty of cornmeal on the parchment paper. Take your first round of dough, lay it on the cornmeal, and turn it to coat it on both sides. Smush it horizontally into a long, flat shape. Lay another sheet of parchment paper on top and then roll out the dough with a rolling pin until the dough is flat and vaguely rectangular. This is not an exact science, and the dough doesn't need to be paper-thin (maybe 1/8-inch thick). You want about a four-inch width. Remove the top sheet of parchment paper and cover with a layer of grated cheese. Sprinkle with pepper, red pepper flakes, basil, and oregano. Then, layer with pepperoni. A single line of continuous, slightly overlapping pepperoni is fine. Again, not an exact science.

When you have the right balance of pepperoni, cheese, and spices, roll the dough lengthwise into a long, thin cylinder. Pinch the ends closed. Cut the cylinder into segments with a knife: maybe five or six. If you want, you can create dimpling in each segment by pressing the blade of the knife down a few times without breaking the dough.

Place the pizza rolls on a third sheet of parchment paper and repeat the process with the other three rounds of dough.

Pull out your pizza stone or baking sheet and--very carefully--place your pizza rolls on top. Put the stone back in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly brown.

Remove from oven and serve with dipping sauce. Your kitchen will smell like Sicily.


Notes


  • This seems like a lot of effort, but it's really quite easy.
  • I usually like to add whole grain flour to anything I bake. Not this time, though. Whole-wheat pepperoni rolls sounds downright un-American.
  • In the past, I used smoked mozzarella instead of provolone. Smoked provolone has more flavor and a meatier texture, in my opinion, but mozz will do if that's what you have. 
  • I estimated four cups of cheese, but I grated mine right on top of the dough, so I'm not sure. You may want to go the Tipsy Crumpet route and improvise until it feels right. Tip: you can't really overdo it, but you can underdo it.
  • The recipe I used said to boil some water and put it in a baking pan underneath the pepperoni rolls to create a steamy atmosphere. The oven sauna seemed to create a tender, airy texture, but the bottoms of the rolls weren't as crusty as I wanted. You can try this or not; the rolls will be scrumptious either way.
  • You will end up sweeping up a lot of cornmeal. But those golden crunchy bits add the perfect bit of texture the final product. Viva Quaker!

Verdict


4 stars. A great snack, and leftovers will keep for about a week in your fridge in an airtight container. Don't microwave, though; this is one snack best reheated to toasty perfection in the oven. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Roasted Vegetable Pot Pie with Rosemary Biscuit Topping

I wanted to make a main dish for a party, and a pot pie topped with biscuits--a savory cobbler--seemed irresistible. I used a recipe, but I adapted it so much, I might as well have created it from scratch. This pie takes a long time, but it's worth it. The double roasting of the vegetables produces maximum flavor and sweetness, and the dried mushrooms balance out the pie with an earthy note. The biscuits are fluffy and tender due to the use of buttermilk. You can use any mix of fresh and frozen veggies for this pie; it's extremely versatile. Sadly, I did not get a good photo of it, but you can see it on my holiday table being upstaged by a cake and a loaf of bread.



Ingredients

 

6 carrots, preferably of different colors, sliced
2 large parsnips, sliced
1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt
pepper
6 cups water
2 Tbsp vegetable bouillon base
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 small package microwavable fresh green beans, trimmed
3 Tbsp butter
1 onion, chopped
6 shallots, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks celery, sliced
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
1/2 cup flour
1/4 whipping cream or sour cream
2 Tbsp dry sherry
dried sage
dried thyme
dried savory
celery seeds
1 small package chives, chopped (about 1/3 cup)

5 cups flour
2 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 cup fresh rosemary, minced
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks chilled butter, cubed
2 1/2-3 cups buttermilk
paprika (optional)


Process


Got three hours? Roll up your sleeves!

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then cover it with the carrot, parsnip, and sweet potato chunks. Massage the veggies with the olive oil and grind in some salt and pepper. Roast until tender, checking with a knife in 20 minutes and every 5 minutes after that. When you take out the veggies, reduce the oven temperature to 400.

While the veggies are roasting, microwave your green beans according to the package directions (a lazy step, I know, but the rest of this is so labor-intensive, you'll thank me).

In a saucepan, heat the water and bouillon. When these reach the boiling point, add the dried porcinis. Remove from heat.

In a Dutch oven, heat the butter. Add the onions and shallots and cook for 10 minutes on medium-low heat until transclucent.

Chop the cooled green beans into 1/2-inch pieces.

Add the green beans, garlic, celery, peas, and rosemary to the Dutch oven. Cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the flour and coat the veggies evenly. Stir and let cook for one minute.

Add the cream or sour cream, sherry, and broth with the mushrooms. Cook until sauce has thickened and reduced somewhat, about 8 minutes. Stir in more flour as needed to thicken the sauce.

Add dried sage, thyme, savory, and celery seeds as seems appropriate to season the broth (around 1 tsp each). Grind in more salt and pepper as needed.

Add the roasted veggies (they should be done by now) and the chives. Stir until veggies are evenly coated with sauce and sauce seems sufficiently thick and well-integrated with the veggies.

NOW, get a 9 x 13 glass baking pan. Will the veggies and sauce fit in the pan? You can always do like the Awkward Chef and line the bottom oven rack with aluminum foil to catch drippings. Pour the veggie mixture into the baking pan. Hopefully, it's enough to fill the pan, but without the danger of leaping overboard in simmering zeal. This was miraculously the case with my filling, which, although dangerously close to sloshing out, never did (at least, not until I topped it with giant clumps of biscuit dough).

Bake the filling for 40-50 minutes. The roux will brown and the veggies will meld, the onions and shallots transforming into a sweet, slow-roasted glue.

While your pie is deepening into itself, make the biscuit dough. (Okay, first clean up a bit. I bet your kitchen is messy and splotched. No roux spatters!)

Stir the flour, baking powder, rosemary, and salt in a large bowl.

Cut in the butter until the flour becomes a coarse sand.

Add the buttermilk slowly, mixing all the while, until you have moist clumps of dough.

Pull your baking pan from the oven. Blanket that filling with biscuit-sized rounds of dough. Nice, big ones. When you're finished, sprinkle the biscuits with paprika.

Now you're really going to want to make sure your oven is lined with aluminum foil. Put some beneath the baking pan for good measure. At this point, you may wish that you and your kitchen were aluminum-lined.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until a knife inserted into the runniest biscuit terrain comes out clean.

Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

This tastes even better in a day or two, heated up in the oven.


Notes


  • This pie was originally all root vegetables, but my boyfriend doesn't like turnips or rutabagas, and celeriac seemed a dubious option. As I noted above, you can be extremely versatile with ingredients. Some blue potatoes, for example, would be nice in place of the yams. Roasted red cabbage would add an interesting note. I wouldn't go with fresh mushrooms, though, because you want the chewy texture of the dried.
  • You can also be versatile with the seasonings and herbs used. No need to go with any of the any of the above if you'd prefer something else.
  • While we're at it, I doubt that the dried mushrooms HAVE to be porcini.
  • I used vegan sour cream in the roux because I have a lactose-intolerant friend and accidentally bought the French vanilla soy creamer. A frantic ransack of my fridge brought to light a still-good container of Tofutti. To my relief, it turned out great! Anything creamy will do.
  • The original recipe called for half the amount of biscuit dough. It obviously didn't know with whom it was dealing.
  • You don't HAVE to roast the veggies the first time around. It will not kill anyone if you saute them along with the other veggies.
  • One small package of rosemary will do for the rosemary. One small package of chives will do for the chives. No need to kill yourself with precise measurements.
  • If all your oven-dripping prevention activity is for naught and you end up with quickly burning patches of roux on your oven walls, know that the appetizing smells of the roasting veggies will overpower the acrid scent of burning flour and bouillon. I would not have dreamed that this was true, but it is!

Verdict


5 stars. If you get past my finicky notes and messy kitchen-shaming and make this, you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Za'atar Pretzels


What is za'atar? It's a savory Middle Eastern blend of thyme, garlic, sesame seeds, sumac, and other herbs and spices. The sumac gives it a bright, lemony flavor and the garlic and sesame seeds lend it an earthy gristle. Za'atar is delicious, and you won't be able to live without it once you sprinkle it on some garlic toast or a slice of pizza. As far as za'atar conveyances go, you can't get much better than a hot-out-of-the-oven homemade pretzel. Perfect for wintry days and stormy nights, and ideal for dipping in whole-grain mustard.

Ingredients


1 cup water slightly warmer than room temperature
1 package active dry yeast
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 cups flour
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp za'atar
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup baking soda
1 Tbsp dark brown sugar
1 egg, whisked
coarse kosher salt
za'atar for topping


Process


Make the dough.


To prepare the water, I usually pour cold, filtered water in a small saucepan and heat it until it's just slightly warmer than my finger. Yes, my breads all have finger juice in them!

Once the water is finger-perfect, pour in the yeast and sugar and let stand for 10 minutes.

In a bowl, combine the flour, yeast, za'atar, sugar, and salt. Stir in the yeasty sugar water and the olive oil. Knead for five minutes, or allow your hand mixer to do the work, with dough attachment. I choose the latter option because my carpal tunnelly wrists would wilt like lilies if I had to knead for any length of time.

Wash out the bowl, coat it with oil, then nestle your now-elastic and pliable dough ball into its clean new home. Throw a damp towel over the bowl and let the dough rise for an hour.

Shape the dough.


Take two baking sheets and cover them in parchment paper.

Gently punch down the dough and divide it into 8-10 pieces (more if you want smaller pretzels). On a floured surface, roll out one piece until it's long and skinny.

Create a circle by bringing both ends toward you.

Twist the two strands around each other.

Lift each end back to the round part of the circle and fold it around the dough such that the pretzel stays in position.

I promise you that you'll pick this up quickly and that it will be easier than it sounds.

Lay the pretzel on one of the baking sheets and start again until all the dough has been shaped.

Cover the dough with the towel.

Prepare the bath.


These lucky pretzels are now going to luxuriate in a baking soda bath!

Preheat the oven to 450.

Fill a large pot or Dutch oven 3/4 of the way full with water. Bring to a rapid simmer, then add the baking soda and brown sugar. The water will froth up. Reduce heat and maintain the simmer.

When the half hour is up, lower 3-4 pretzels into the water. Let them relax for 30 seconds, then flip them over with a slotted spoon or metal spatula so that the other side can enjoy 30 seconds of spa time. Remove and return to the baking sheet.

Repeat this process with the other pretzels.

After all the pretzels have delighted in their bath, brush them with the egg wash and sprinkle with the coarse salt and plenty of za'atar. They'll puff a lot, so lay it on thick.

Bake.


Bake 12-15 minutes, until the pretzels have turned golden-brown.

Place them on a wire rack.

Make a mustard dip: combine some whole-grain mustard, some smooth Dijon, and a dash of IPA or pale ale. Mix and spoon into a small serving dish.

Serve the pretzels with the dip and eat steaming hot.

Variation


Now that you've mastered pretzels, you're just a hop, skip, and jump away from making pretzel dogs, or, in my case, pretzel veggie dogs, otherwise known as HALLOWEEN MUMMIES.

To make these, blister 8-10 dogs on a hot pan for 10-15 minutes. The last thing you want is for your pretzel dough to encase pale, uncooked fake meat.

Wrap the dough around the dogs, covering the ends entirely.

Immerse the dogs in the bath and repeat as before, sprinkling with black sesame seeds and paprika instead of za'atar if you want to try another variation.


Notes



  • These aren't as hard to make as you think. Try out the recipe on a snow day! The pretzels will disappear instantly and you'll be primed for a nap.
  • These are also fine the next day if you heat them up in the oven first.
  • I tried adding other seasonings to the dough before baking, but you can't really taste them in the end. The seasonings you put on top will be much more prominent.

Verdict


A definite five stars.



Thursday, November 20, 2014

Blistered Green Beans with Harissa and Toasted Almonds

Do you like green beans? Like them skillet-blackened and served with a vibrant Middle-Eastern chili paste? Then you will love this recipe. I adapted it from Bon Appétit's version, which calls for chilis you can't find in the northeast in winter. I used my cast-iron Lodge, and it's never been put to better use than in creating this tantalizing side dish.


serves 4-6

Ingredients

 

1 red bell pepper
3 dried red chilis (I used chiles de √°rbol, or bird's beak chilis)
3 garlic cloves, minced 
1 tsp kosher salt, plus more for seasoning 
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided 
juice from one lemon
1/4 tsp ground coriander 
1/4 tsp ground cumin
freshly ground black pepper 
2 pounds green beans, ends trimmed 
1/4 cup unsalted almonds


Process

 

Preheat your oven to 425.

Stem and de-seed your red bell pepper. Chop into big pieces, lightly oil the pieces, then put them on a baking tray and into the oven. They will need about 20 minutes to char and soften. Flip once or twice.

Stem and seed your dried chilis (retain seeds of one or more if you want extra heat, but be careful--bird's beak chili seeds will not exactly glide soothingly down your esophagus).

Set a small pot of water to boil. Set your skillet on high heat and toast the chilis. Remove when they are browned on both sides--about 3-4 minutes.

Immerse the chilis in the boiling water. Let them soak for 15 minutes, then put them on the tray with the bell pepper pieces.

Place your almonds on the hot skillet. Toast for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, let cool, and chop.

This is a good time to trim those beans.

When the bell pepper pieces look soft and are beginning to wrinkle, with beautiful char marks on both sides, remove pan from oven.

While the peppers are cooling, throw together the garlic, salt, 1 Tbsp olive oil, lemon, cumin, and coriander. You can use a small blender or a mortar and pestle to mush the ingredients together. I used the latter implement.

Chop the bird's beak chilis and the bell pepper finely. Add them to the rest of the mixture and pulverize until you have a chunky sauce (or frantically pound with a potato masher, as I did when our blender proved useless and the mortar and pestle did not seem up to the task). You can add a little water if it helps. Add the almonds at this point.

Set your skillet on high heat again. Place your trimmed beans in a bowl and toss with 2 Tbsp oil, salt, and pepper.

Throw half the beans onto the skillet. It will take about 10 minutes for them to soften to a succulent yet firm state. Stir occasionally, letting the beans char all around.  When they appear done, throw them on the baking sheet and into the still-warm oven.

Pour your next batch onto the skillet.

When beans are finished, put them back in the bowl and toss with the harissa. Serve hot.

Notes


  • I tried this dish both hot and cold and it was better hot.
  • The heat level is mild to moderate without the seeds. Next time, I think I would keep the seeds of one chili for more fire.
  • All recipes tell you to remove the skin from roasted bell peppers. I reject this. It's healthy, delicious, and in no way a threat to the sauciness of the harissa. Leave the skin on, says I.
  • I love the beans al dente, putting up resistance like a prize fighter who doesn't want to go down. If you prefer a more tractable bean, blanch the beans in boiling water for 3-4 minutes and then plunge into ice water before putting them in the skillet.
  • The effect of the burning-hot, heavy cast iron is key to the success of this dish. If you lack a skillet, go buy one! But while you're waiting, you can make this on a grill or broil the beans for a similar effect.


Verdict


Side dish win! I would definitely make this again.