Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

Anyone familiar with this site knows that homemade pizza is one of my favorite indulgences.  I tend to think of it toward the end of the week—with the unrealistic plan of enjoying leftovers on the weekend. That so rarely happens.

The pupose of today’s post is is to eliminate my on-going irritation concerning the whereabouts of my current pizza dough recipe. More exact, I tend to misplace or lose track of my latest pizza-dough-du-jour because it regularly changes. It’s a mirror of my life: as my life evolves, so goes my pizza dough.

Lately, I’m making a dough that uses instant yeast. It is brilliant because it requires no advance proofing of yeast in warm water, thus eliminating 10 to 15 minutes lead time.  The instant yeast is combined with the dry ingredients and blended with hot water (120 to 130 degrees). The dough is briefly mixed, then given a quick knead to get the gluten going, and left to rest for only 10 minutes—opposed to the usual 30 to 60 minute rise.

pizza dough ball (1)
Ten minute pizza dough

The longer traditional yeast development is regarded essential for optimum rise, texture, and flavor.  However, this dough has fine flavor; it is quick, malleable and can be patted out quite thin, all for which I give high marks. I like to keep the flour at least 50% all-purpose or bread flour, then fill in the remainder with whole wheat, semolina, a bit of flax meal, or other fun flours.

When I have my act together I prefer to pre-bake the crust for 8 to 10 minutes, which moves past the ‘fussing with dough’ phase and wards off potential sogginess.

pizza crust
Pre-baked crust: a blank canvas

Pizza is ready when I am.

Either way, then it’s a simple matter of gathering toppings and baking it all off in a hot oven for 15 or 20 minutes. In the throes of a busy week this dough wins hands down.

Here is my current Quick and Easy Pizza Dough, ready for topping.

Quick and Easy Pizza Dough

Ingredients

  • 1½ – 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup warm water (120-130 degrees F)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, mix together 1 cup of the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Add the hot water and olive oil and stir to combine with spatula.
  2. Continue adding the flour until the dough just clears the sides of the bowl. In bowl or on a floured surface, knead for about three minutes, until the dough is soft and slightly sticky without leaving a lot of residue on your fingers.
  3. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 10 minutes, lightly covered with a towel.
  4. While the dough rests, preheat the oven to 400-425 degrees F. Well oil a pizza pan or baking sheet.  With floured hands pat the dough into the pizza pan. Add sauce and toppings of choice and bake in lower third of oven for 15-20 minutes, until center is bubbly and crust is golden brown.    Yield: 1 large or 2 medium

To pre-bake the crust: Well-oil 1-2 pizza pans. With floured hands, pat the dough into a large pan, or divide the dough in half and pat with floured hands into two oiled medium pans. Bake at 400-425 degree oven until firmly set but not colored, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool on rack or store lightly wrapped until needed. A well-sealed crust can be frozen up to a month.

Short and Sweet: Spiced Cran-Apple Jam

One of the benefits of living in Oregon is our availability to fresh, tart cranberries.  Oregon’s coastal region’s moist bogs provide ideal conditions for the spindly, low growing bushes to thrive.

courtesy oregon cranberry growers assn.

 

Their juicy tanginess makes an ideal foil in sauces, chutneys and other condiments, in salads, and for baking.  I like to stock up on cranberries when they are abundant, from October to December.

 

I recently came across a forgotten bag of berries stuffed in the recesses of the fridge that needed to be either frozen or used up.  Here’s my ten minute solution:  a sweet and sour cranberry-apple jam that falls somewhere between jam and chutney.

cran apple jam

 

The jam’s spicy-tart bite is a delicious wake-up on morning toast, as an edge with peanut butter in a sandwich, and even as a mild condiment with curries.

 

Nice to know it is laced with B, C and E vitamins, too.

 

Spiced Cranberry Apple Jam

Ingredients

  • 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries, rinsed and drained
  • 1 large Gala, Fuji, or Honey Crisp apple, peel, seed, chop
  • ½ cup apple cider
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • Pinch sea salt
  •  ¼ tsp five-spice powder, or cinnamon stick
  • 1 vanilla pod, seeded, or 2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. In a medium pot, combine cranberries, apple, cider and vinegar, sugar, salt and five-spice and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. If using vanilla extract hold off until finish to add.
  2. Simmer over medium heat until cranberries begin to burst and jam thickens, 8-10 minutes. Just before removing from heat, stir in vanilla and simmer briefly. If desired, mash berries with a bean or potato masher, for more jam-like consistency
  3. Let cool, remove the vanilla pod. Transfer jam to a pint jar with the cinnamon stick if using.  Will hold in refrigerator 2 weeks or longer.  Yield:  2 cups

The Case of Sinking Grapes

Who doesn’t like grapes?  In most markets we are lucky to have fresh, juicy grapes available year round. So, in the dark days of winter, an attractive bowl of grapes set out on a counter can be a nourishing and welcome site.  

courtesy Pixabay

For easy snacking, I like to rinse, drain, and cut up large bunches and place smaller portions in a covered container.  Stored in the fridge, the grapes are reach-in ready and will hold for a week or longer.   

We tend to overlook grapes as a handy option in baked desserts. Here’s a happy idea that makes perfect sense: a lemon-scented cake laced with polenta and grapes. What’s not to like?  Polenta provides flavor and structure and the grapes add entertaining pockets of sweet juiciness.

Bonus: Tiny test corners

But what to do about those errant grapes that stubbornly sink to the bottom of the cake?  Trust Martha Stewart to come up with a clever solution for the irritating dilemma of sinking grapes. She begins by scattering only half of the grapes on top of the batter before placing it in oven.  When the cake is partially set, the remaining grapes are strewn about the top and baked until golden brown.   

Remember to use seedless grapes—red is pretty, but any color that strikes your fancy will work.

Serve the cake warm with a light dusting of confections’ sugar and perhaps a dollop of whipped cream.  Should you have left-overs, the cake will hold well for two or three days at room temperature.  After that, store what’s left in the fridge. 

Polenta-Grape Cake

Inspired by Martha Stewart’s Olive Oil Cake with Red Grapes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup polenta or coarsely ground cornmeal
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp grated lemon zest
  • ½ cup olive oil or a combo with melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 cups red or green grapes, washed and dried

Directions

  1. Line an 8” round or square pan with parchment and then spray with baking spray.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. In a larger mixing bowl, beat the eggs until light. Gradually add the sugar and lemon zest, beating until fluffy. 
  4. Slowly beat in the oil. In 3 additions mix in the flour alternately with the milk and 2 portions of the dry ingredients, ending with dry mixture. 
  5. Spoon the batter into the baking dish. Scatter ½ of the grapes over the top and bake for 15 minutes. Remove and top the cake with the remaining grapes, bake 25 minutes longer.  Cool in pan on rack for 15 minutes then turn out and cut into portions.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve. If desired accompany with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.  Serves 6-8. 

 

A Few of My Favorite Things

When it comes to tasty baking combinations, these days it’s hard to beat buckwheat groats, tahini, and honey. And here we have a cookie with all three—plus a surprise crunch factor thrown in for entertainment value!

This idea comes from a gluten-free cookie re-engineered from Gluten Free Girl – an excellent site for all things gluten-free.  These soft, moist, fiber rich cookies are the perfect purveyor for any of your favorite additions: perhaps a handful of trail mix or a combo of dried fruit, seeds & nuts, and/or white or dark chocolate.

In this case, the star is roasted buckwheat groats, well known for its characteristically earthy, nutty taste. I’m partial to its toasty/tobacco flavor that’s reminiscent of cooler seasons. Buckwheat’s hard outer hull must be removed for it to become fully edible. Since it has no gluten, buckwheat flour is often used as a substitute for wheat flour.

Although it is frequently associated with grains, buckwheat is a seed related to sorrel and rhubarb. That’s welcome news since seeds are literally jam-packed with minerals and antioxidants. Once toasted the buckwheat groats are called kasha. If the roasted variety is too strong, try the milder, unroasted buckwheat as a delicious rice substitute.

Even though these cookies are effortless to whip up, they do require a little advance planning. Allow a 30-minute soak for the groats to achieve their iconic texture, and one-hour chill time to firm-up the dough before baking.

So fond am I of these cookies, I have taken to making two different sizes. In a 10”x10” pan I portion out nine large 3-tablespoon/scoops—large enough for on-the-run happy meals.  In an 11” round pan, I layout approximately ten rounded tablespoon-sized cookies—ideal for a mid-morning or afternoon snack.  Or, for a slightly more logical solution you could make about 20 cookies, but that’s just how I roll…

All-Occasion Buckwheat Cookies

Greatly reworked from a gluten free concept, 3:30PM Cookies at Gluten-free Girl.

Ingredients
¾ cup buckwheat groats
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg or ½ tsp ground ginger
¼ cup coconut oil, melted
¼ cup tahini
½ cup honey
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup spelt or whole wheat flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup favorite fruit/nut mix (or ¼ cup each nuts/seeds, dried cranberries, white chocolate)

Instructions

  1. To soak the buckwheat groats: melt the coconut oil in microwave for 30-40 seconds. Stir in the tahini to combine, then add the honey.  In a small mixing bowl, measure ¾ cup groats along with the cinnamon and nutmeg or ginger. Pour the warm coconut oil mixture over the groats. Stir well and let soak for at least 30 minutes.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together.  Pour the soaked buckwheat mixture over it. Add the egg and stir with a spatula to combine. Add the trail mix and blend.
  3. Cover and chill at least 1 hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment or silpat.
  5. Using 3 Tbsp scoop, place 9 on baking sheet. Shape into flat cylinders. Bake 17-18 minutes until golden brown and set on edges.
  6. Cool for 10 minutes on baking sheet, then move to wire rack to cool completely. Repeat making 1 pan of smaller rounded tablespoon cookies. Yield: @ 20 2-1/2 to 3” cookies.

Honey Spiced Cakes

If you are a fan of pain d’epices, the classic French sweet bread made with honey and spice, then here’s a version that will make your head spin. Part of the appeal of the pain d’epices loaf is that it is designed to improve with age. However, once you’ve had a bite of one, it’s unlikely that will ever happen.

These smaller, personal sized cakes receive their distinct identity from an enticing blend of spices featuring aniseed and compounded with rye flour.  The healthy dose of honey adds enough richness and moisture to make it hard to believe they contain not a whit of butter or oil.

This particular Spanish twist comes by way of David Lebovitz and his great blog of the same name.  The cakes are one of a fascinating collection from  Chef Daniel Olivella in his new cookbook, Catalan Food: Culture and Flavors from the Mediterranean.  Olivella, born in Spain, shares his grandmother’s thrifty sweet cakes originally made with stale bread saturated in red wine. Daniel now lives in Austin, Texas where he operates Barlata Tapas Bar.

Rather than red wine syrup, David chose to roll his variation in sugar and then dip the tops in a cider syrup.  I passed on all that, since mine were plenty moist and sweet from the honey.   I also used smaller silicone molds, which hold about ¼ cup when filled, and less than a standard muffin cup.

For a final touch of sparkle,  I lightly dipped the baby cake tops in turbinado sugar crystals—and called it good!

Honey Spiced Cakes

Inspired by David Lebovitz’s adaptation of Daniel Olivella’s version in Catalan Food: Culture and Flavors from the Mediterranean.

Ingredients
For the cakes
1 cup honey
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup rye flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground aniseed
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 cup whole or low fat milk
2 large eggs, at room temperature
Optional syrup
1/2 cup sparkling apple cider, hard or non-alcoholic
1/2 cup, plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar
Finish variation:  1/3 cup turbinado sugar

Instructions

  1. To make the cakes, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Use small silicone cups or line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the honey and brown sugar. If your honey is super thick, you may wish to warm it slightly before mixing.
  3. Sift together the all-purpose and rye flour with the baking powder, cinnamon, aniseed, nutmeg or ginger, and cloves, into a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the milk and eggs, stirring until partially combined. Add the honey mixture and stir until everything is well-combined.
  4. Divide the batter into the cups; each should be about two-thirds full. Bake until the cakes are barely set in the center and the tops are lightly browned 25-30 minutes. Let cool completely.
  5. Prepare the optional syrup while the cakes are cooking and cooling: bring the cider and 1/2 cup granulated sugar to a boil in a small saucepan or skillet, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
  6. To finish: put the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl. Remove the cakes from the muffin cups and roll each in the sugar, coating the sides. Dip the tops of each cake in the syrup after you roll each one, and set them on a serving plate.
  7. Alternatively, simply dip the tops in turbinado sugar.

To serve:  Chef Olivella suggests serving with remaining syrup and a bit of crème fraiche, but as a snacking cake they are good on their own.  Store in airtight container at room temperature 4-5 days.  Yield:  about 12 cakes.

Nixtamalized Corn = Hominy = Posole

Nixtamalization is getting a lot of buzz these days, especially with the many vested in preserving and promoting the traditional foods of Mexico.  For anyone else interested in authentic flavors and elemental nutrition it should matter, too. It seems we have come full circle from what the Aztecs knew centuries ago.

The Aztecs would grind the kernels of their maize or field corn against the limestone rocks found in the riverbeds, and they discovered the beneficial interaction between the two.  They noticed how their bodies responded after eating corn that had been ground in limestone. This corn did not cause digestive problems and gave them energy and spiritual alertness.

Scientists have since confirmed that lime releases niacin, an essential amino acid, in the corn.  The increased health benefits of nixtamalized corn are substantial:  it can reduce bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol, and contribute to the optimal functioning of other body processes such as digestion, cellular repair and elimination of toxins. Niacin also seems to reduce the level of triglycerides in the blood and much more.

Hominy is made with either white or yellow corn, but specifically it is from flint or dent corns which have a tougher outer seed coat than others. Soaking the kernels in an alkaline solution loosens or dissolves this outer portion. In the process, the kernel absorbs water and the alkaline solution which is key to nixtamalization. When cooked, the chemical composition of the kernel is altered, boosting the nutritional value of maize.  This process also provides hominy with its readily identifiable flavor and chewy bite.

Posole, hominy,  nixtamal, are all the same thing: they are corn that has undergone the nixtamalization process. Posole, a derivation of the Nahuatl word for hominy, has come to broadly refer to a soup or stew made with hominy.  So popular is posole in Mexico, it is considered a national dish, with various regions proclaiming their unique version as the best.

Here’s an easy posole made with a combination of pork, tomatillos, and pasillas or other hot peppers.

The hominy and tomatillos  provide added thickening power and flavor that melds with the pork into a rich and supple stew. Serve it straight up in bowls with favorite toppings like avocado, cilantro and crema. Or, cook it down until thick for a tortilla filling. Enjoy with spicy slaw, fresh avocado, salsa, cilantro and whatever else pleases you!

Pork Posole

Ingredients
2 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
1 large onion, slice into strips
2-3 pasilla peppers, or other hot peppers, seed & cut into strips
3 cloves garlic, divided
1½ – 2 lbs pork sirloin, trim, cut into strips
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. oregano
7-8 tomatillos, husk, quarter
1 tomato bouillon cube
Few dashes favorite hot sauce
2 tostadas or corn tortillas, in small pieces
1½ cup water, enough to barely cover
2 cups cooked white hominy, rinse and drain

Accompaniments:  warmed corn tortillas, guacamole, cilantro, crunchy slaw, hot sauce

Instructions

  1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté to soften, add the pepper strips, 2 cloves garlic cut into thin strips, and continue to cook until the peppers have softened and garlic is aromatic. Remove all from pot and set aside.
  2. Season the pork strips with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to medium high and add remaining 1 tbsp. oil to the pot.  When shimmering add the pork and brown on all sides.  Add the third clove of garlic cut into slivers, and toss briefly along with smoked paprika and oregano.
  3. Stir in the tomatillos, crumbled tomato bouillon,  a dash of hot sauce, the corn tortilla pieces, water to barely cover the pork, and stir to combine well.
  4. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until the pork is tender. Or, to use multi-cooker, seal the lid, bring to high pressure and cook for 25 minutes. Turn off system, let pressure come down naturally for 10 minutes, then release remaining pressure.
  5. When the pork is tender add the reserved onion and pepper medley. Stir in the hominy and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or longer, until flavors are well blended and the posole has thickened. Adjust seasoning.
  6. Serve the posole in bowls with favorite garnishes. Serves 4.

 

So much cheese… so little time

You never know when good fortune will cross your path.  For some time now I’ve been making my own yogurt, thanks to the ease and convenience of the ole Instant Pot. Once committed to the process, my results have become far superior to any of the usual store bought varieties.  When I discovered one  batch could yield two distinct styles I got even more excited:  I’d have a quart of fine yogurt for daily use, plus a good supply of thick, creamy Greek yogurt worthy of cheese status.

During my early Greek yogurt period, I came across Home Cheese Making (3rd edition) by Ricki CarrolI, while browsing books at a used book sale. (Ricki has a 4th edition coming out  December 2018).  It looked nearly new (good/bad sign, whatever), I added it to my stack and brought it home.  Several days later, I opened the book and knew this was no mistake. I haven’t met a cheese that I didn’t like, and here was an opportunity to see where all this could possibly go.

Ricki’s well laid-out book takes a complicated subject and breaks it down into manageable chunks. It’s geared to the novice as well as the skilled cheese maker, with a wide range of cheeses to consider from soft fresh cheeses like queso fresco, mozzarella, and feta, to ripened cheeses like cheddar, gouda, brie, and much more.  Here, I could begin to understand and more fully appreciate the art of cheese making—and I was ready.

You can get started in cheese making with a few basic kitchen supplies.  A good digital thermometer is a must, plus a colander, cheesecloth, a long spoon or spatula, the usual measuring cups and spoons, a long knife for cutting the curd, a stainless steel pot, and a reliable cooking unit that maintains a steady temperature.

Each cheese requires specific additives for its success. Some of the basics are: a starter such as yogurt, a mesophilic or thermophilic starter; liquid rennet for coagulation; calcium chloride for curd formation; lipase powder for flavor; and cheese salt.

Sourcing cheese making supplies can be a hassle, but I’ve had good luck with Ricki’s website, New England Cheese Making Supply Co. It is a reliable resource for cheese making information and supplies.

Since cheese making can be intimidating, I centered on a realistic mindset:  cheese has been around for centuries, surely I can figure this out.  Granted, there’s a large learning curve—at this point I’m happy mastering fresh cheeses.  I’d tinkered with ricotta and mozzarella before, and I welcomed the opportunity to give them another try and add them to my cheese line-up. I was starting over but making progress—they both turned out well.  ✓✓

Thus far, my biggest success comes from making feta cheese.

I was intrigued by the additional brining process, since feta’s flavor develops more fully the longer it ages in brine.  This small extra step felt like a giant leap into cheese making. ✓

If you happen to read the previous post,  Feta Focus, you’ve absorbed a few feta details.  Essentially, Greek feta has earned its own provenance: much like a European wine appellation, it must be made with either sheep and/or goat’s milk. I’m keeping it simple at this point, I am happy  staying with familiar and readily available:  whole cow’s (not ultra-pasteurized) milk.

Feta cheese is fairly simple to make. I used a sous vide with my first batch, which was entirely unnecessary. The second time, I filled my well-scrubbed kitchen sink with 90° hot water, placed the covered milk-filled stainless steel pot into the warm water bath, and stirred occasionally until it reached 86°.   That’s when the starter culture and ultimately the rennet are introduced and the curd making process unfolds.  I added more regulated hot water as needed to maintain the temperature. Once the curds have formed, the process moves along fairly quickly.

It’s important to allow time for the curds to drain well.

Once draining has slowed significantly and forming a mass, the cheese is placed in molds for shaping and further straining.  It’s then briefly placed in a brine solution for a quick rest to stabilize the feta before turning out onto a mat to dry.  

The cheese is then returned to the brine for aging and storage. The feta is ready to eat in 4 to 5 days. 

Homemade Feta Cheese

Ingredients
1 gallon whole milk (avoid UHT or ultra-pasteurized milk), sheep and/or goat’s milk
1/8 tsp. lipase power, for flavor (diluted in ¼ cup unchlorinated water, let stand 20 minutes)
1/8 tsp. calcium chloride, for curd formation (diluted in 1/4 cup unchlorinated water)
1/4 tsp. mesophilic starter culture, MM100, bacteria to convert lactose to lactic acid
1/2 tsp. liquid rennet, to coagulate milk (diluted in 1/4 cup cool unchlorinated water)
1/4 cup salt for brining/storage

Utensils:  Digital thermometer, large stainless steel pot, large spoon & perforated scoop, colander, measuring cup & spoons, curd knife like a boning knife, cheesecloth or butter muslin, 2 perforated molds, sushi mat.

Instructions

  1. Warm the milk in a stainless steel pot to 86°F. As milk is heating, stir in the diluted lipase and the diluted calcium chloride.
  2. When brought to temperature, sprinkle in the starter culture and stir Cover and let milk ripen for 1 hour.
  3. Add the diluted rennet and stir gently with spoon in an up-and-down motion (not a stirring motion) for several minutes. Cover and let set undisturbed at 86°F for 1 hour until it has gelled, separates from side of pot, and there is a clean break in the curd when sliced with a knife.
  4. Using a long knife cut the curd at an angle. Turn the pot and slice into 1/2-inch cubes all the way to the bottom. Repeat if necessary. Let rest for 10 minutes.
  5. Gently stir the curds on and off for 20-30 minutes. As the curds firm and retract, stir more briskly.
  6. Line a large colander with a double layer of cheesecloth or butter muslin and place a bowl under it to catch the whey. Scoop in the curds and let excess whey drain off 2 hours.
  7. Once dripping has stopped divide into 2 cheesecloth lined perforated molds and weigh down. Turn often in molds to drain for 4-6 hours, regularly rotating to weight evenly until no more liquid collects.
  8. To stabilize feta, place the blocks in brine and weight down to keep submerged  1 Tbsp. salt per 1 cup unchlorinated water to cover for 4-5 hours.
  9. Remove feta to mat, cover loosely with cloth, refrigerate for 1-3 days to drain and air dry. Turn several time daily. Brine can be filtered and reused.
  10. Return feta to storage brine. Refrigerate 4-5 days, or up to 30 days. Yield: 1 pound.