Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Vermont Baharat

What is baharat and why am I sharing it with you? Baharat is a spice blend in Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. Baharat actually means "spice" in Arabic and their are many versions. Whenever I have it in the house I find myself adding it to many dishes as a spice rub on meat, or added to a braise or veggie burger. It is a very aromatic and exotic blend that really enhances so many of the dishes I use it in. I encourage you to make some of your own and experiment with it. Although it will also be useful if you wish to cook along with me.

I discovered baharat when searching for a recipe to use the leg of lamb and navy beans I had. I found a lebanese stew that mostly called for basic pantry items, and something called baharat. Of course there was a link to a place to order the spice blend from but that wasn't going to work for dinner that night. Also making my own blend would be much less expensive. If I want to prepare meals within our budget I cannot pay someone else to mix my spices.

So I looked on the internet for a baharat recipe. Thanks to google I found a website with six versions of baharat from different regions as well as uses for the blend. This is one of my favorite, and possibly most insane ways to cook. That is I refer to several versions of the same item and then combine them to my tastes with some alterations all my own. It must look ridiculous when I have cookbooks all over the kitchen all opened to the same dish, looking back and forth at the directions as I cook. This was much easier as all the recipes were on the same page. After looking at the many variations and the spices used I made my own blend with the amounts varied to our tastes, emphasizing the flavors we like best. I also added Mace, I find it really enhances the flavor of many dishes when used sparingly.

We were all out and it has become a favorite when sprinkled on meat about to go on the grill so I made some more the other day. Afterwards I made lentil burgers using the recipe for black bean burgers and 1 tsp baharat instead of all the other herbs and spices. This was a few weeks ago and I am half way through what I made. I just used it again yesterday to make the brisket for Passover. When I sprinkled it on the meat Julian said, remember when we made that? He really enjoyed shaking the spice jar to blend everything.

Vermont Baharat

1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamon
1/4 tsp ground mace

Place all the ingredients in a container with a tight fitting lid and shake to blend. If you like lamb this is especially wonderful rubbed on lamb before cooking. Although we also love it on steak, in stews, burgers...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Butternut Squash Sour Milk Waffles

Julian turned 4 on Sunday. I try to make birthdays special for my children from the time they wake up in the morning to when they go to bed at night. Special does not mean a pile of presents, they are doing far too well with being materialistic without that. Obviously food is a large part of what I think makes a special day. Breakfast can be hard, we regularly have waffles, pancakes, crepes, homemade scones, french toast... So what would make this breakfast special? First I bought a whole mess of out of season fruit, watermelon, cantaloupe, raspberries and blackberries. I think that alone would have done the trick. Both boys fell on the platter of fruit with glee, eating until it was gone.

The other thing I did to make it special was make a new waffle recipe. To be completely honest I have been itching to try this recipe all week. I found it while skimming through Marion Cunningham's Breakfast Book looking for muffin inspiration. This recipe is for sour milk waffles or pancakes but it was the waffle idea that I really wanted to try. This recipe calls for separating eggs, whipping egg whites, etc so it needed to wait until a Sunday, and a slower pace.

I made a few changes to the recipe to suit our tastes and we all loved the results. One of the changes I made was adding some butternut squash puree. Before my CSA I used to add canned pumpkin puree to waffles. They make them moister and if you don't use pumpkin pie spice they even appeal to avowed pumpkin haters (like my husband). You can use either here. The waffles were light and flavorful, a little crispy on the outside with a soft and tender inside. The sour milk added a really mild background tang that was delicious and hard to place. I highly recommend them. The fresh fruit was a really nice complement, as of course was the butter and real maple syrup we poured on top.

While we were eating breakfast there was snow falling outside. My boys tried to order mother nature to stop snowing, shortly after it began to snow harder. Lewis and I told the boys they insulted mother nature. By the afternoon the snow stopped and we went to Shelburne Farms to check out the maple sugaring and visit the animals. The day was warm enough for sugaring (close to 40°) but it was windy and felt cold. Already my body is getting used to warmer temperatures and I cannot handle the cold in the same way. The sap was running, but slowly and we got to pour some in to a collection bucket and really explore the process. Then we went and saw the chickens and the new baby lambs. It was a beautiful visit, one I think the boys will remember for a long time.

This is the farm barn at Shelburne farms in the distance with a maple tree and a sap bucket in the foreground.

Stand of maple trees and sap buckets. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.

Another view of the farm barn at Shelburne farms, this time you can see Sebastian on the left and Julian on the right running of to visit the animals.

The rooster and a chicken coming down the ramp to free range. We are planning on getting some hens this spring so we were all very interested in the chickens. I even picked one up, which was a big step for someone originally from New York City.

This is one of the lambs that is being bottle fed because it's mother abandoned it. Julian was enthralled with how soft they are.

Butternut Squash Sour Milk Pancakes or Waffles

Sour the milk by adding 1 Tbsp white vinegar to every cup of milk, stirring and then letting it stand for 10 minutes. To make butternut squash puree I cut them in half, scoop out the seeds and strings and then brush the cut halves with olive oil. I then roast them cut side down at 350°, or whatever temperature I have the oven at for another dish, until the squash is tender and soft. Next I either scoop out the pulp or peel of the skin and puree with an immersion blender (a food processor or regular blender would also work well). I then like to return the puree to the oven to cook off some of the liquid. This usually takes about 15 minutes to half and hour. I freeze any excess in 2/3 cup portions for waffles, and other baked goods.

3 eggs, separated (medium or large)
2 cups sour milk (directions above)
2/3 of a cup pumpkin or butternut squash puree
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup unbleached al purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

Beat the egg yolks well in a mixing bowl. Mix in the sour milk, squash puree and vanilla extract. Add the sugar, salt and baking soda to the egg yolk and milk mixture and mix well. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry and set aside.

Add the flours to the yolk mixture and beat until smooth. Add the melted butter and mix until well blended. gently fold the egg whites in to the batter.

To cook as waffles add batter to a hot greased waffle iron, I used a belgium waffle iron. After adding the batter gently spread it in the waffle iron so it is even.

To make pancakes cook on a hot greased griddle or skillet.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Chipotle Roasted Butternut Squash Puree

Today's weather reached a high of 57° and everyone was running around soaking up the sunshine and making up for a season of vitamin D deficiency. The return of the warmth and the sunshine has only increased my desire for spring vegetables, I have almost fallen for the lure of the California asparagus on sale at the co-op on several occasions. However I have stood firm and slunk home to the last of my winter CSA.

One of the CSA vegetables that I have the most trouble with is butternut squash. I can use it up without a problem by roasting it and then making soup, waffles and muffins. However I long for a savory vegetable use for it. Somehow adding it to baked goods does not feel like I am fully utilizing it. The other day I had a sudden inspiration of a sweet potato recipe we love where I could substitute the butternut squash. Lewis and I both loved the end result, if my boys ate spicy food they also would have loved it. Although I am thinking I can do a little better on their rendition next time with some smoked spanish paprika.

I made this happy discovery because I was craving Alton Brown's Chipotle Smashed Sweet Potatoes and also feeling really poor and unable to buy any sweet potatoes. So I decided to make it with butternut squash. The smokiness and heat of the chipotles in adobo made the butternut squash richer and creamier while enhancing their sweetness. At first Sebastian liked the tame version I made for them by only adding the adobo sauce, but then he didn't eat anymore. After trying a bite of the mild one I realized I was not aggressive enough with the seasoning.

Chipotle Roasted Butternut Squash Puree 2 ways

1 butternut squash
approximately 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp adobo sauce
1/2 tsp salt or more to taste
smoked spanish paprika to taste (only is making a mild version)
1 1/2 whole chipotle pepper in adobo chopped fine (this comes in a small can and is available at most grocery stores. The unused portion can be transfered to a jar and stored in the fridge)

Turn the oven on to preheat to 350°, the oven does not have to be fully preheated before adding the squash. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds and strings (I find a grapefruit spoon does a great job of scooping out the seeds). Brush the cut sides with extra virgin olive oil and place cut side down on a cookie sheet. Roast in the oven until a fork can easily slide into the skin and flesh. It should be really tender. This will take approximately 40 minutes. When the squash is tender either scoop the flesh out of the skin or peel of the skin. Either place the flesh in a blender, bowl of a food processor or if you have an immersion blender in a bowl. Puree the squash until smooth. If you have extra time before eating it is nice to put the bowl back in the oven to thicken the puree for about 15 minutes, if you don't have time just proceed.

Add butter, adobo sauce and salt and mix well. If you have anyone who does not like spicy food remove a portion to another bowl and add smoked paprika to taste. Add chopped chile to main portion of squash puree and mix well.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Never buy thin mints again!

That is what Sebastian, my 6 year old said today. Sebastian was the member of my family who was the most upset after I read the nutritional information and ingredients for thin mints and decided not to buy any. No I wasn't expecting them to be low in sugar and fat or high in fiber and vitamins. However I am not okay with feeding my family hydrogenated oil or corn syrup. If it cannot be made in a home kitchen without the use of chemicals and high tech heating I don't want it in my house. So I told him I would make some. Hey, sometimes kids forget things, albeit not my children, so maybe I wouldn't have to make them.

I had seen a recipe for them on another blog so I figured I was safe. I had even read over the recipe and it seemed pretty manageable, not always a step I bother with. Now I could just wait until the mood seized me or my children remembered my promise. Well as luck would have it we went over to a friends house yesterday for a play date where we were given some thin mints as part of our snack. So when I picked up Sebastian from the bus today he asked if we could make thin mints. I was so relieved not to be pestered about having a play date that I said yes.

So I sat down at my computer to print the recipe and I while I was there I also read the comments. This recipe had mixed reviews, many folks loved them, however even more had trouble with the dough. It was too dry, hard to work with, shattered etc. Between school, making dinner and 2 boys who are tired because of the daylight savings switch, this did not sound like the sort of project I wanted to start with a kitchen that is already in disarray. (read very little clear counter space)

So I began to think of what other cookies have the same flavor and texture as thin mints. OREOs! Now I just needed a good recipe for homemade OREOs. I did sub whole wheat pastry flour for some of the all purpose flour. I discovered a few years back that chocolate is such a strong flavor it can safely hide some whole grains. Not that I think these cookies are now health food, but a little extra fiber is not a bad thing. I was a little rushed, and honestly flakey, while softening the butter in the microwave. As most of the butter was still quite firm I ended up having to use more to make it form a dough. The extra butter meant that the cookies ended up soft instead of crisp. To fix this problem I changed the baking procedure, rebaking them like biscotti. In the end I also decided not to dip them in melted chocolate but instead to make them as sandwich cookies with a chocolate peppermint ganache. I made this choice purely because I love the ganache in the peppermint bark recipe on Orangette. If you already have the Platonic essence of dark chocolate and peppermint, why not use it? I encourage you to try the peppermint bark as well, it is outstanding.

The resulting cookies are perfect. The cookie itself ended up crisp, the ganache soaked in to the cookie just a little. The best part is they are so rich you will not be tempted to eat a whole box as with the original cookies. So really they are diet food.

Fat Mint Sandwich Cookies

Chocolate Cookies
1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup plus 3 Tbsp plus 2 tsp unsalted butter at room temperature (1 stick plus 51 grams)
1 large egg

Peppermint Ganache
3 1/2 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate
3 Tbsp heavy cream
3/8 tsp peppermint extract

Set the oven racks in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 ° F. Put flours, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer or food processor and mix thoroughly. On low speed or while pulsing if using a food processor add the butter and then the egg. Continue mixing or pulsing until dough forms a ball.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper and scoop out tablespoons of dough and place approximately 1 inch apart on sheets. (Next time I make these I am going to make them smaller, that way we will have more cookies to share). Slightly flatten the dough with moistened hands and then roll the edge to make them smooth and the cookies a uniform thickness. Bake for 9 minutes, rotating trays halfway through baking.

Set baking sheets on a rack to cool and turn oven down to 325° F. When cookies have cooled about 15 minutes return them to the oven for 9 minutes more, rotating trays halfway through baking. After 9 minutes turn the oven off and take the cookies out for 10 minutes to cool. Return cooled trays to the oven to harden for 25 minutes more.

Melt bittersweet chocolate, cream and peppermint extract in a medium heavy weight sauce pan over medium low heat until the mixture is melted and smooth. Spread a generous layer of ganache on the flat side of a cookie. Place another cookie on top and press very gently. Cool on a plate or tray.

Next year donate to your local girl scout troop and make your own cookies!!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Asian Chicken Salad

Sometimes good things can come out of rotten ones. This was the case the other day when my car battery died. My car battery dying is actually an ongoing winter problem for me. The problem lies with a feature of my car to prevent the battery dying, ironic I know. See if you leave the lights of the car running and turn off the car most of the time they go off when you open the door. Really it is a great feature, until the days that are so cold that the little button that senses the car door has opened freezes.

And really who wouldn't be overjoyed to have a dead battery when it is obnoxiously cold out? So most of the time I check on cold days to make sure the lights went out. Somehow this is preferable to me, better then turning them off and then having to remember to turn them back on. Well Wednesday I was in a hurry after parking my car, and anyway it didn't seem that cold. Actually when I went back out to my now dead car, it wasn't very cold, the snow had melted off the top. However the lights were on and the battery was dead.

So, after calling triple A I had a 45 minute to an hour wait. Thus my happy image of going to my favorite food store before picking up Julian from preschool disappeared. However we had just loaded a bunch of stuff from our storage unit in the car. I was so happy to discover the June 2006 issue of Gourmet in the trunk. This issue was from right before we moved, so I had never looked at it before. Inside I found an Asian chicken salad that provided inspiration for dinner that night. I had a very incomplete list of the vegetables called for, but that doesn't usually phase me. I also changed the dressing quite a bit, adding and subbing. The salad I made would not be recognizable to anyone reading the original, but still delicious. I only got to eat the leftovers for lunch because I beat Lewis to the fridge the next morning. The moral of the story is, if you have different vegetables to work with, go ahead and make this salad. I would not hesitate to make it with a green and some warm or cold roasted vegetables, or I would sub seasoned firm tofu or tempeh for the chicken.

Asian Chicken Salad

3/4 of a pound snow peas, trimmed and sliced into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces
1 1/2 cups napa cabbage, shredded
1/2 lb. baby spinach thoroughly washed and spun dry
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp lemon juice
3 Tbsp fresh orange juice (I used a minneola tangelo)
1 Tbsp miso paste (I used white)
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp sherry vinegar (you can substitute white, cider, champagne or any other light vinegar)
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste, at least 1/4 tsp
1 1/2 tsp Asian sesame oil
2 Tbsp grape seed oil (or vegetable or olive oil)
2 cups shredded cooked chicken from leftover roast chicken or rotisserie chicken
1/4 cups finely chopped cilantro
1/4 cups sliced almonds, toasted
2 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
2 oranges (I used minneola tangelos)

Cook the snow peas briefly in boiling salted water that you have added a splash of extra virgin olive oil to, until tender. Approximately 1 1/2 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Place in a large salad bowl with napa cabbage and spinach.

In a small bowl whisk together soy sauce, lemon juice, orange juice, miso paste, sugar, vinegar, salt, black pepper, sesame oil and grape seed oil until emulsified. Mix the chicken with 1/3 of a cup of the dressing. Add the chicken to the greens and add toasted almonds and sesame seeds. Toss with enough of the dressing to lightly dress the whole salad.

Supreme the 2 oranges, doing the final slicing between the membranes over the salad bowl to catch the juice. When you have supremed the oranges squeeze the membranes to add the juice the salad. If you don't know how to supreme citrus good directions can be found here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cabbage Again

... or when will winter end? It is the first week of March and I am thoroughly sick of winter. I am ready to walk out of the house without having to hog tie my children into snow pants, boots, coats, hat and gloves. I am ready to walk outside without having to search for socks for everyone. I am even ready to hear the ice cream truck and tussle with my children over expensive corn syrup filled garbage. Mostly however I am ready for a new collection of vegetables to cook with and spring and summer ways to cook. However I still have winter CSA vegetables to deal with and it really is too cold outside for me to use my grill. So for now I still have to cook piles of root vegetables, cabbage and butternut squash.

As I stared at my cabbage I knew I could not braise it again. I find as the chef I get more tired of ordinary food preparations then anyone else in my family. I think that may be because I spend all that time preparing the food, while my family only encounters it at the table. So for this weeks cabbage I stayed away from any this winters usual methods and broke out my salad bowl. Mind you this does not mean I made a mayonnaise based coleslaw, somehow I have never liked traditional coleslaw. For the first half of the cabbage I made a Greek Salad. Green cabbage that has had boiling water poured over it mellows and gains a slight sweetness that makes it the perfect green for Greek salad. The second half of the cabbage I also shredded and poured boiling water over, the next day I made a variation on the Coleslaw with Buttermilk Horseradish Dressing from Deborah Madison's, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Greek Salad with Cabbage
The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines

1/2 head green cabbage cored and shredded
1 green pepper cored and sliced into chunks
1 cucumber peeled and sliced thin
handful of kalamata olives
Feta cheese sliced into small chunks
1 scallion sliced thin or some very thinly sliced sweet onion
dried oregano
1 very ripe tomato, don't use ordinary supermarket ones, it is better to do without
Greek Salad Dressing, recipe follows

Place the shredded cabbage in a colander and pour a pot of boiling water over them. This softens the cabbage a little and sweetens it while removing the sharp bite. Let stand for a few minutes until it is sweet enough for you, then rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

It is really best if you marinate the feta, onion, pepper and olives in enough of the dressing for the whole salad and oregano to taste for 1 hour before assembling the salad. However we were hungry so I just marinated it for a few minutes.

Greek Salad Dressing

3 parts high quality extra virgin olive oil
1 part lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Mix with a whisk to emulsify. I used 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 3 tablespoons olive oil

Coleslaw with Buttermilk Horseradish Dressing
Adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup sour cream or yogurt (I used sour cream)
2 tsp prepared horseradish
1 garlic clove (my garlic was a little old and became overpowering, this time I year I should have left it out)
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
1 tsp sherry vinegar (you may substitute fresh lemon juice, white wine vinegar, cider vinegar, champagne vinegar or red wine vinegar)

Combine the buttermilk, sour cream and horseradish in a bowl. Chop the garlic with 1/8 tsp kosher salt, smashing both with the side of the knife to form a smooth paste. Add the cilantro and chop and smash some more to bruise the herb. Add to the buttermilk mixture and stir in vinegar, adding more to taste.

1/2 head of green cabbage cored and shredded
2 carrots cleaned (or peeled depending on your preference)
freshly ground black pepper.

Place the shredded cabbage in a colander and pour a pot of boiling water over them. This softens the cabbage a little and sweetens it while removing the sharp bite. Let stand for a few minutes until it is sweet enough for you, then rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

Place the cabbage in a serving bowl and shred the carrots on top, I just used a peeler and peeled them straight into the bowl, but you can grate them or slice them into matchsticks. Toss with the dressing and freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste.