Summer of Love Popcorn

I missed the whole nutritional yeast phenomenon. You know, that staple in the kitchens of vegetarians and vegans used to supplement their diets.

Nutritional yeast

Heralding back 50 years ago, it was the darling of the hippie generation and the many caught up in the massive back to the land movement that followed.  Nutritional yeast was a natural for those rejecting establishment commodities. It was emblematic of the value placed on nutrition and simplified living.

Nutritional yeast is a dried condiment of sorts. Its taste is often described as cheesy; it is fairly low in sodium and has only 60 calories in two tablespoons. It can also be used as a thickener or a binder, like bread crumbs.

Best news, it is considered a complete protein and rich in fiber, and it is high in magnesium, iron, phosphorus, biotin, vitamin B-12, folic acid, and other minerals.  Nutritional yeast is described as a dead yeast, in that it is inactive and often fortified with B1, B2, B6, B12 and more.

On a recent visit to Life Source Market, our local hangout for first rate natural foods, I was wandering the bulk food section with eyes glazed over, when approached by one of the staff.  I explained I was in search of ‘nutrition yeast’. He nodded and pointed out 2 lower bins, explaining that they offer two varieties of nutritional yeast, a flaked and a powdered one, depending on preference.  His voice softened as he praised its health benefits and cheesy flavor. ‘It’s a must on popcorn,’ he murmured, and left me to ponder alone. I theorized that larger flakes would be more of the same, so I cautiously opted for a small amount of the powdered variety, and moved on to the tea bins.

Nutritional yeast is fascinating, no doubt I’ll find plenty of uses for it. For now, I am happy to report I have gotten serious about popcorn again. Here is my current take on an easy popcorn, based on low butter bags of microwaveable on hand. I use a good quality coconut oil which lends a toasted perfume of coconut, a nice change from butter. The dusting of nutritional yeast clings to the popcorn and helps other ingredients to adhere as well.  Korean red pepper, or gochugara, is milder than cayenne-style with a slightly smoky-sweet flavor.  Season to taste with a good quality sea salt.

Yes I am hooked on this mixture; it’s reassuring to know that I can dive into popcorn and get heathy too!  I suspect I will return to the popcorn-in-a-bag concept, mastered a couple of years ago, and give up on the packaged goods.  Winter or summer, popcorn is always in season.

EZ Popcorn

Ingredients

1 medium bag microwaveable popcorn, popped
2-3 teaspoons coconut oil, melted
2 tablespoon nutritional yeast, or to taste
1-2 teaspoons Korean red pepper flakes
Sea salt to taste

Directions 

  1. Empty the popped corn into a bowl. Drizzle with coconut oil and toss well.
  2. Sprinkle with the nutritional yeast and red pepper flakes and toss to distribute.
  3. Season with salt to taste.   Serves 2.

Note: This popcorn is even good the next day!

Biscotti | The Cookie that Keeps on Giving

While rearranging a pantry shelf recently I came across an errant bag of biscotti that had shifted off by itself, becoming the clear culprit in the current traffic jam.

Biscotti du jour

I opened the bag and I gave it the sniff test—a lingering scent of cardamom drifted out.  On the bag I had scribbled near illegibly, ‘Ginger Cardamom’, likely lost remnants of my last biscotti du jour effort.  I do that.  I’ll have a new favorite biscotti that I get stuck on and keep baking more of the same.

Biscotti can be fickle.  The dough can be temperamental and far more trouble than it is worth.  The double baking which aids in its longevity creates an additional step, so let’s keep it simple. Here is my basic recipe for a tender biscotti that I change up with different additions of dried fruit, nuts, flavorings, etc.  It is a very malleable dough that can be quickly mixed by hand.

Ginger in any form is a reoccurring theme on this site.  I adore it because it is soothing, satisfying, and spicy enough to pack a good punch.  Since cardamom is seductive and supportive in its own flavor profile, these two team nicely together.

My saved cooking notes on this batch indicate that I added a dash of sesame oil.  I still like that notion. Call me a purist, but when it comes to nuts in biscotti, I have my moments.  In the case of sesame oil, it does not compete with the lovely chewiness of the candied ginger, yet complements both the ginger and cardamom.

What a nice surprise! After a month or so lost in storage, these cookies are still good enough to warrant a fresh cup of coffee and another round of biscotti for me and my friends.

Ginger Cardamom Biscotti   

Ingredients

1-2/3 cups flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cardamom
¾ teaspoon powdered ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 tablespoons canola oil (I included 1 teaspoon sesame oil.  Not obvious, but nice)
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup candied ginger
Optional drizzle topping: ½ cup white chocolate chips melted with 2 teaspoons coconut oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325-350° F. Prepare parchment or silpat lined baking sheet.
  2. Combine dry in small bowl and whisk.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk eggs through vanilla until well blended.  With spatula, stir in dry ingredients just to combine.  Stir in candied ginger.  Scrape onto baking sheet dividing and shaping into 2-3 narrow loaves @  1″ high and 2″ wide, keeping them about 2 ½” apart.  They will spread.
  4. Bake 30 minutes, until firm but springy.  Cool briefly.  Using serrated knife, slice loaves into ½” diagonal slices.  Lay cut side down on sheet.  Bake 12 minutes. Turn slices over and bake 12-15 minutes longer, until light golden brown.  Cool on rack.  If desired drizzle with melted white chocolate. Store airtight at room temperature. Yield: 2-3 dozen biscotti.

Peanut Butter Cookies to Impress

We’ve talked about peanut butter before. There are times when nothing is more satisfying than creamy, rich peanut butter—with a spoon, right out of the jar.  The next time that impulse strikes, you might want to consider a slightly more civilized approach.

Here’s an opportunity to have an easy peanut butter fix in cookie form.  These seductive thumbprint cookies are tailor-made with five basic ingredients, and they bake in ten minutes. If you can recruit any tiny hands, their simple shaping contribution will make everyone happy.

The thumbprint variation allows for the option of quickly filling the little center imprint with whatever pleases you:  jelly, jam, Nutella, dulce de leche, or perhaps marshmallow crème.

Roll the cookies in granulated or brown turbinado sugar before baking for an extra sparkly touch.  When cookies are set, remove them from the oven and fill the center of each with the product of your choice. Briefly return the cookies to the oven to finish baking and set the filling.

Beware.  Do not be tempted to eat these standing up, directly from the pan. Let the hot cookies rest briefly in their pan to firm up and then cool on a wire rack.  You will avert scorching any hovering open mouths.

Peanut Butter Thumbprint Cookies

Ingredients
1 cup peanut butter, either creamy or chunky
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup granulated or turbinado sugar (optional, for rolling)
Filling of choice:  berry jam, grape jelly, Nutella, dulce de leche, or marshmallow crème

Directions 

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray a baking sheet with baker’s spray or line with parchment or silpat.
  2. In a medium bowl stir the peanut butter and sugar together with a spoon. Add the beaten egg and baking soda and stir to evenly combined.
  3. Using a teaspoon, shape rounded spoonfuls of dough into balls. Roll in sugar, if desired.  Set on the baking sheet about 1” apart. With a water moistened thumb, press down in center about ½” to make a well.
  4. Bake for 7 minutes until puffed.  Using back of small spoon, press the thumbprint down again and fill with jam or other filling.  Return to oven and bake another 3 minutes.
  5. Let the cookies cool a couple of minutes and remove with spatula to cooling rack.  To store, layer cookies between sheets of waxed paper.  Store airtight for up to a week.   Yield: approximately 24 cookies.

The Everything Crepe

From tortillas to injera bread, just about every country in the world has its variation of a quick, simple bread often prepared in a unique pan, on the grill, or in the oven.

Then there’s the crepe. Let’s call it a multi-national bread because it has pancake cousins spread across continents, too. In this version, we have high jacked the Italian crespelle for the basis of an inspired Asian wrap.  Semolina flour lends added chewiness and flexibility that makes it quite irresistible. There are so many dumplings and breads of note in the northern reaches of China that this crepe should feel quite at home wrapped around other Asian flavors, like Anise Poached Chicken from the previous post.

The Everything Crepe

Take the basic crepe batter, add a little chopped green onion and a smattering of mixed sesame seeds (or highly recommended Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend) and proceed as usual.

If you choose to go the Asian route, slather your finished crepe with hoisin sauce and wrap portions of Asian Salad, Anise Chicken, Char Siu, or other barbecue pork—you name it!

Easy Asian Wrap

Or, you could go New York-style, forget the sauce, and fill your crepe with creamed cheese and lox!

The Everything Crepe

Ingredients
2 eggs, room temperature
1 cup water, room temperature
½ cup fine semolina flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 tablespoon mixed blend of black and white sesame seeds and poppy seeds, or see below*
1 tablespoon green onion, chopped

Directions

  1. In medium bowl sift the dry ingredients, beat the eggs, butter and water together and slowly add to the dry, whisking until smooth. Stir in the seeds and green onions to combine.  Allow to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour or chill for up to 2 days and bring to room temperature before proceeding.
  2. Heat a 10” crepe pan or flat round skillet over medium to medium-high heat, depending on unit.  Brush the surface with butter, or wipe with coated toweling.  Stir down the batter and thin with a bit of water if it has thickened beyond the thickness of heavy cream.  Pour about ¼ cup of batter into pan and quickly swirl it to reach the entire surface.  Pour any excess back into bowl.  Trim any errant edges as it cooks.  When bubbles begin to form, about 1 minute, carefully turn with spatula or wood spoon and cook 2nd side for 30 seconds to one minute.
  3. Remove the crepe to a holding plate, wipe the pan if necessary with more butter and repeat, stacking the crepes with 2nd side up.  Yield: about 10 crespelle.
  4. If made in advance, wrap the crepes in plastic wrap or foil.  Can be made ahead 2 days, stored in refrigerator, or freeze well wrapped.

*Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend is a mixture of white and black sesame seeds, poppy seeds, seas salt flakes, dried minced garlic, dried minced onion.

Entertaining Rhubarb

For years we had a rhubarb plant tucked in an obscure corner of the back yard.  We gave it little thought other than to acknowledge its intended purpose. The rhubarb stood heel-to-heel with a huge holly bush, our sentries assigned to guard a tiny crawl space under the house.

No one ever fell into the well, thanks to the prickly holly and its partner the rhubarb, whose large wide leaves served as great visual cover. When winter arrived, the rhubarb would fade away and return the following spring to rise up and do its job all over again.

At one point early on, I got to wondering about the rhubarb long enough to learn that its leaves are poisonous due to high levels of oxalyic acid.  After that, I viewed it with caution and never entertained the idea of bringing it into the house. When rhubarb was listed on menus I would pass. I was not interested—besides, there were plenty of other good things to eat.

All of that changed recently when a friend dropped off a few stalks of rhubarb, proudly sharing the latest in spring offerings from his garden.  We got to talking about rhubarb in chutney, which he claimed delicious.

Chutney! The magic word.  Before I knew it, I was firing up my Instant Pot pressure cooker ready to see how fast I could whip up my own batch. These rhubarb stalks were small and tender, unike the big thick hummers that I recall. I could have used one of my many chutney recipes, but rhubarb’s sour bent makes it quirky.

I opted for a Bon Appetit recipe from April 1994 from Epicurious.  Still, I tweaked it, cut it in half (the reluctant one here), and added a Gala apple for a touch of natural sweetness to counteract the astringency of the rhubarb.

Thanks to my glorious pressure cooker, chutney which normally takes 40 minutes or longer to cook down was out of the pot and stored in its own container in under 30 minutes. As with other chutneys, an overnight rest will blend and further improve flavors.

This rose colored chutney is complex and nuanced—I am certainly a believer now, and I will return to the well! All channels are open for rhubarb.

 Rhubarb-Apple Chutney, 15-Minute Pressure Cooker

Inspired by a Bon Apétit recipe from 1994, via Epicurious.

Ingredients
1/3 cup white or brown sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peel and grate
2 teaspoons garlic, peel and mince
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 cups fresh rhubarb, about 1 pound in cut into small cubes
1 gala apple, peel, seed, chop into small cubes
1/2 cup red onion, small chop
2 tablespoons dried cranberries

Directions

  1. Heat the brown sugar, cider vinegar and flavorings through the dried red pepper flakes until the brown sugar has dissolved.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer.  Set pressure cooker for 5 minutes, allow the pressure to reduce naturally for about 5 minutes and use the quick release.
  3. It will be slightly separated. Mash or press with a spoon to break up chunks and forms a cohesive sauce.  Allow to cool and chill overnight if time allows.  Yield: about 2 cups.

Donut Holes—Made Easy

Yes, donut holes with all of the taste, none of the frying, and cute enough to warrant packing one away in each cheek. The real secret to these light, cakelike bites is the coating of cinnamon-sugar that’s held firmly in place by a whisper of butter thinly brushed onto their exteriors while still warm.

Muffins are one of the easiest quick breads to bake, and actually benefit from the least amount of handling. Dust off a mini-muffin pan or two and bake up a batch in absolutely no time. As with any cake donut, we want the contrast of crispy exteriors and light interiors. Here are a few tips to get you there.

For even distribution and rising, sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Over stirring makes tough cone-topped donuts. Combine the liquid ingredients separately and add all at once to the dry ingredients in as few strokes as possible. A few lumps are fine. For consistent cup filling, use a small ½-ounce scoop; a tablespoon will also work.

Muffins are done when they are well-rounded with a light golden color and the centers spring back when pressed. For maximum crispiness do not cool in pan. Run a knife around edges to loosen and turn out onto cooling rack.

While warm lightly brush each donut hole all over with butter and roll in cinnamon-sugar.  Let rest 15 minutes to allow sugar coating to crystalize, and have at it!

Donut Hole Muffins

Ingredients
1½  cups all-purpose flour
2   tablespoons cornstarch
1½  teaspoons baking powder
½   teaspoon salt
½   teaspoon nutmeg
1   egg
⅓   cup vegetable oil
½   cup granulated sugar
¾   cup milk
Topping
¼   cup butter, melted
½   cup sugar
1   teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° and thoroughly coat mini muffin cups with cooking spray.
  2. Sift flour, cornstarch, and baking powder into a medium sized mixing bowl.  Add the salt and nutmeg and mix well.
  3. In a small bowl whisk together the egg, oil, sugar, and milk.  Stir the liquid into the dry ingredients just to combine.
  4. Using ½-ounce scoop or a tablespoon, fill the cups with batter and bake for 20 minutes, until they begin to turn golden brown and the tops spring back when pressed. Turn muffins out onto cooling rack.
  5. Meanwhile, combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small wide bowl. One at a time, lightly brush each muffin all over with melted butter and then roll in the cinnamon sugar. Place on baking rack and repeat. Allow to set up about 15 minutes and serve.  Yield: 24-30 donut holes.

Scones: fresh from the oven!

A beautiful scone beats a biscuit hands down—in my humble opinion. For most Southerners, those could very well be fighting word.  But, since this is my blog, I will continue.  Scones make a handy quick bread for breakfast, a special brunch, or an afternoon snack with tea.  These have real character. Their rough-hewn shape shouts, ‘Hearty country, made with love! Fresh from the oven!’

Blueberries are outstanding in these scones, but they also worthy of Oregon’s Marionberries or even pitted cherries.  In this batch I’ve substituted ¾-cup whole wheat flour for ¾-cup all-purpose flour, and for fruit, dried cranberries and apricots.  Dried fennel, other herbs and spices are obvious additions, whether in lieu of fruit or as a complement.

Scones are a snap to make with a food processor, but I have made them using 2 knives to cut the butter into the flour—much like making a pie dough.  Beyond that, it’s a simple matter of stirring the liquid into dry and forming the dough into two loaves, with the least amount of possible fuss.

The secret to light scones is minimal handling and a moderately hot oven for fast rising.  To do this, quickly form into two rounds and score the tops—instead of shaping individually.  Cool briefly before slicing into portions and enjoy hot with butter, jam, or straight up.  Store whole loaves lightly wrapped, reheat, and cut to order. For more ideas, check out the variations that follow.

Basic Scones

Ingredients
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. baking powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup chilled butter cut into small chunks, or shortening
2 large eggs, beaten with enough milk to equal 2/3 cup
Optional finishing for tops:  2-3 tbsp. milk, 2-3 tbsp. demerara or cinnamon-sugar

Directions

  1. Butter a baking sheet or line with silpat. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. In a mixing bowl sift the flour through salt.
  3. Using a food processor or 2 knives, cut the butter into flour mix until it becomes a grainy texture.
  4. Make a well in the center of the butter-flour and pour in the egg-milk liquid. Stir briefly to bring ingredients together and fold in fruit or other additions if using (details below).
  5. Turn out onto a floured surface and lightly knead if shaggy and form a round. Divide mound in half and pat into 2-6″ rounds, about 3/4″ thick. Mark the tops into 5-6 wedges with a sharp knife.
  6. Place on a greased sheet. Brush the tops evenly with milk and dust with sugar. Bake at 375° approximately 20 minutes, until golden brown.  Yield: 10-12 scones.

Berry Variation
1 cup blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, etc. (fresh or frozen, defrosted)
2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
Dust the berries with flour and cinnamon. Gently add to the flour-fat mixture after the egg-milk liquid.  Proceed as directed.

Dried Fruit Variation:   to dough add 1 cup dried fruit such as cranberries, apricots, dates, cherries, or any combination

Jammer Variation
Score each round into 6-8 wedges.  Dust thumb with flour and press down into middle of each section, making 1/2″-3/4″ wide hole. Fill each impression with favorite jam (about 1/4 cup total).   Brush with milk, sprinkle with sugar and bake.  Serve hot.