Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Penelope Cocktail

I was delighted to learn about the newest book from Maria Del Mar Sacasa. Her last one was Winter Cocktails, and I’ve had so much fun trying different, boozy versions of hot chocolate and other warming cocktails for cold weather. This new book is the opposite. It’s Summer Cocktails, and I received a review copy. It’s full of refreshing, iced, chilled, and frozen cocktails to enjoy in the summer sun. I’m fascinated with the Shrub Cocktails made with homemade fruit vinegars combined with gin, sparkling wine, or vermouth. I can’t wait to try the recipes for the shrubs like blackberry-basil, rhubarb-plum, and strawberry-rosemary. There are also recipes for infused liquors like Black Pepper Gin or Vodka and Chiquila which is morita chile- or chipotle-steeped tequila. The Black Pepper Gin is used in a Moroccan Mint Iced Tea cocktail among others, and the Chiquila appears in several drinks including the Pulparindo with tamarind concentrate and grapefruit juice. There are Punches and Pitchers for parties and Frosty Drinks where I could easily focus my attention until fall. The Luxe is a vanilla milkshake made with fresh cherries and Luxardo maraschino liqueur, and the Watermelon Refresher is poured over frozen watermelon cubes. There are even boozy popsicles. Yes, I believe this book will stay close at hand throughout this summer. With Cinco de Mayo just a couple of days away, a tequila cocktail seemed appropriate. So, first from the book, I tried The Penelope. 

If you start with a fresh pineapple, you need to plan ahead since frozen chunks of pineapple are what are needed here. This is a smooth, frosty cocktail pureed in the blender. Frozen pineapple is combined with tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and simple syrup to taste. The pineapple itself was sweet enough for me, and I didn’t add any extra sweetening. Once pureed, the mixture was served with a garnish of lime. I had just received a couple of samples from NatureZway which came in very handy. I always spill and dribble liquor all over the counter when I’m measuring for cocktails, and it’s great to have extra bar towels. I received two bamboo cloth towels and a roll of heavy-duty bamboo paper towels. The paper towels are sturdy enough for serious cleaning, and the eco-friendly bamboo cloth towels can be washed and reused for years to come. 

I’m actually looking forward to a scorcher of a summer this year. The hotter it gets, the more reason I’ll have to keep making different icy cocktails. From Iced Coffees with Kahlua in the morning to Pimm’s with Strawberry Vodka in the afternoon, it might not be a productive summer but it will be delicious. 

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Beer-Battered Shrimp with Spicy Ketchup

I’m really good at being a picky eater. That’s been true my whole life. There are certain foods that I never eat and ingredients I always avoid. But, I’m not good at counting calories. I have no idea at all how many calories I consume in a day. I’m completely in favor of eating on the light side, choosing whole grains over refined flour when possible, and minimizing my sugar intake. So, it’s handy to have a good cookbook for lightened up dishes with lists of how many calories, and specifically what types of calories, are in recipes. Virginia Willis’s latest book, Lighten Up, Y'all, does just that, and I received a review copy. This book takes several classic Southern dishes and reworks them into lighter versions. Every recipe has information about total calories per serving and how many grams of fat, carbohydrates, fiber, and protein there are. Saturated fats have been reduced and at least partially replaced by unsaturated, sodium has been cut, and sugar quantities have been slashed. The tip for keeping the calorie count in check that I’d rather not follow is the one about reduced fat cheeses. Going back to that thing about me being a picky eater, I try to only buy cheeses that are certified organic or that are definitely made with milk from animals never given antibiotics or hormones. In several recipes in the book, either reduced fat cheese or a mix of regular and reduced fat is called for. When I’ve tasted those kinds of cheese, the flavor just isn’t there, and they tend to be made by large companies that don’t guarantee anything about the quality of milks used. For me, I’d rather cut calories elsewhere. What I can’t complain about at all are the Buttermilk Biscuits I baked one Sunday morning for breakfast. They’re made with some whole wheat pastry flour mixed with the all purpose and some unsaturated canola oil mixed with the butter. They were tender and delicious. The Multigrain Pecan Waffles with no sugar in the batter are on my list to try next. There’s a Red Snapper Provencal with Stone-Ground Grits dish and Creamed Corn-Stuffed Tomatoes that doesn’t actually have any cream that I want to make. From Starters through Sweet Indulgences, there are great-looking recipes for every course. 

Beer-Battered Shrimp was an easy choice for the first recipe to make from the book. I always love shrimp, especially when it’s crispy. I have to admit though, the real reason I wanted to make this was because of the homemade spicy ketchup. In my effort to rein in my sugar consumption, I sometimes skip regular ketchup. Here, the homemade version is made with just one tablespoon of honey and no refined sugar. To make it, some olive oil was heated in a saucepan. Grated onion was added and cooked until softened, and minced garlic was added. Next, canned whole tomatoes that had been pureed were added along with tomato paste, sherry vinegar, honey, smoked paprika, and a little salt. The mixture was cooked until thickened, about 45 to 60 minutes. The shrimp were cleaned and deveined. Then, a batter was made with beer, rice flour, all purpose flour, and baking soda. The shrimp were dipped in the batter and then coated with panko breadcrumbs mixed with chopped cilantro. The shrimp were shallow fried in just enough canola oil to coat a skillet, and lemon slices were seared in the hot pan when the shrimp were removed. 

The beer batter and panko crumbs made the shrimp extra crispy. And, the smoky, tangy homemade ketchup was delicious for dunking the shrimp. I put some extra ketchup in the freezer so I can pull it out some time later for oven fries or veggie burgers. I still won’t be any good at counting calories, but this book has given me several new ideas for eating light without sacrificing flavor. 

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Semolina Cavatelli with Rabbit Ragu

I have to warn you, I’m going to gush a bit here. A new book has come along that’s not only about one of my most favorite food topics but is also full of interesting information I’d never read before on the subject. The book is Pasta by Hand by Jenn Louis, and I received a review copy. Even Mario Batali, who wrote the foreword, hadn’t tasted or heard of several of the recipes in this book. Now to explain, the “pasta” in the title refers to traditional handmade dumplings or variations on gnocchi from different regions in Italy. Jenn Louis researched the topic at her home in Portland and then traveled from region to region in Italy to learn everything she could about dumpling making. In Italy, these handmade morsels of dough are always called gnocchi with some regionally specific names for certain shapes. For Italians, the word dumpling is thought of only in terms of Chinese-style stuffed dough shapes. However, gnocchi translated to English is dumplings. Whether it’s pasta, gnocchi, dumplings, or any other name, they all look delicious and fun to make. I didn’t actually flag any pages in this book as I usually do to quickly flip back to recipes I want to make. That’s because I will eventually make every type of pasta or dumpling described. I truly love working with pasta doughs of all kinds and figuring out how to form the desired shapes. A yeasted dough is used to make Cecamariti which comes from Lazio, and the dumplings are shaped like little green beans with pointy tips. Orecchiette, from Puglia, is a shape I’ve never tried making but have wanted to for the longest time. It’s traditionally made with semolina or regular wheat flour, buckwheat flour, or burned wheat from fields that were burned after harvesting. There are potato gnocchi versions as well as ricotta ones; two versions with beets; some have chestnut flour; one has winter squash puree in the dough; and the Gnocchi Alla Bismark dough includes finely chopped prosciutto, cinnamon, and nutmeg. For each type of dumpling, there are suggestions for best sauces to pair with it. And, there’s a chapter for sauces at the back of the book. I decided to make Semolina Cavatelli for Easter, and since I have a curious habit of eating rabbit at Easter-time, I paired the cavatelli with the Rabbit Ragu. 

It all started a few years ago when I was out for dinner with my family on the night before Easter. I ordered the rabbit. I ate the Easter bunny on the night before Easter. Two years ago, my birthday fell on the day before Easter. When we went out for dinner that night, I did it again. What can I say? I can’t resist a theme. So, rabbit was on the menu for our Easter dinner this year. The only problem was that the recipe calls for ground rabbit, and after too many phone calls to count to butcher shops and meat counters around town, I learned that I can’t get ground rabbit in Austin. I bought a whole rabbit from Countryside Farms at the farmers’ market, removed the bones, and chopped the meat myself. But first, I started by making the cavatelli a couple of days in advance. It was easier than I expected and really, really fun. Boiling water was mixed into semolina flour with salt and olive oil in a stand mixer. The dough was then kneaded by hand briefly and then left to rest for 30 minutes. With small pieces of dough at a time, long ropes were rolled by hand and cut into half-inch lengths. Those half-inch bits of dough were rolled off the thumb on a ridged gnocchi board. The dough is just stiff enough to curl up around your thumb and form a little curved shape. It was like the dough just knew what to do all by itself. I stored some of the cavatelli in the refrigerator that was going to be used that weekend, and the rest was placed on a sheet pan and set in the freezer. Once firmly frozen, the cavatelli can be transferred to a bag to store in the freezer. Making the rabbit ragu was simple once I had the rabbit meat prepped and ready. I did skip the pancetta in the recipe and started by cooking the onion, fennel, rosemary, sage, thyme, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes. Pureed, canned tomatoes were added and left to simmer before red wine and chicken stock were added and simmered until reduced. The chopped rabbit cooks quickly and was added at the end and only cooked for 10 minutes. To serve, enough ragu for each serving was heated in a saute pan with some added butter. Cooked cavatelli were added to the sauce to finish cooking and become coated. Parmiggiano-Reggiano was sprinkled on each serving. 

The semolina cavatelli are sturdy but tender at the same time. They hold their shape well but take on a nice texture after being cooked. The only thing better than making the pasta, was eating it. The ridges and curled shapes held the ragu well, and I was delighted with the rabbit in the sauce. I still have more cavatelli in the freezer that might get paired with a simpler tomato sauce next time. And then, I’ll be coming back to the book to try all the other dumpling shapes. 

Semolina Cavatelli 
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Pasta by Hand.

Serves 10 

This recipe, featuring semolina, makes a sturdy dumpling. The texture is firmer and more toothsome than ricotta cavatelli, similar to malloreddus, which are also made from semolina, though the cavatelli are a little denser and made without any saffron. Semolina cavatelli pair well with sauces rooted in southern Italian staples, such as tomato, lamb, beef, and seafood. 

400 G/1 3/4 CUPS WATER 
865 G/5 CUPS SEMOLINA FLOUR, PLUS MORE FOR DUSTING 
2 TSP KOSHER SALT 
1 TBSP EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL 

Bring the water to a boil over high heat. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, combine the semolina flour, boiling water, salt, and olive oil. Knead with your hands or on medium speed for 10 minutes, until fully combined and the dough is mostly smooth. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. 

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and dust with semolina. Cut off a chunk of dough about the width of two fingers and leave the rest covered with plastic wrap. On a work surface very lightly dusted with semolina, use your hands to roll the chunk into a log about ½ in (12 mm) in diameter. Do not incorporate too much more semolina into the dough, adding just enough so the dough does not stick to the surface. Cut the log into ½- to 1-in (12-mm to 2.5-cm) pieces. With the side of your thumb, gently push each piece against a gnocchi board or the back of the tines of a fork, rolling and flicking the dough to make a curled shape with an indentation on one side and a ridged surface on the other. Put the cavatelli on the prepared baking sheets and shape the remaining dough. Make sure that the cavatelli don’t touch or they will stick together. 

(To store, refrigerate on the baking sheets, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 2 days, or freeze on the baking sheets and transfer to an airtight container. Use within 1 month. Do not thaw before cooking.) 

Bring a large pot filled with generously salted water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the cavatelli and simmer until they float to the surface, 1 to 3 minutes. Simmer for 1 to 2 minutes more, until al dente. Remove immediately with a slotted spoon and finish with your choice of sauce. Serve right away. 

SAUCE PAIRINGS: Traditionally, semolina cavatelli are paired with Tomato Sauce, Rabbit Ragu, Lamb Ragu, or Beef Ragu. 

Rabbit Ragu 

Makes 3 cups (720 ml) 

Rabbit is as common in Italy as chicken is in the United States. At Lincoln, this ragu is a staple. We buy whole rabbits and use every part: the bones are made into stock, the fore- and hindquarters are used for an entree, and the loins and bellies are ground for ragu. Often we also use the livers, heart, and kidneys when making rag├╣; they add great richness and flavor. If finding ground rabbit meat is challenging, check with a local farm, Italian market, or specialty butcher, and ask specifically for medium-large grind (if the rabbit is finely ground, it will cook too quickly and toughen). This sauce is well worth the effort. 

3 TBSP EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL 
2 OZ (60 G) PANCETTA, PROSCIUTTO, OR BACON, FINELY CHOPPED 
1/4 CUP (40 G) FINELY DICED YELLOW ONION 
1/4 CUP (45 G) FINELY DICED FENNEL BULB 
1 SPRIG FRESH ROSEMARY 
3 FRESH SAGE LEAVES 
2 SPRIGS FRESH THYME 
2 BAY LEAVES 
1 TSP RED PEPPER FLAKES 
1/4 CUP (50 G) CANNED WHOLE PEELED TOMATOES, PUREED AND STRAINED 
1/2 CUP (120 ML) RED WINE 
4 CUPS (960 ML) CHICKEN STOCK 
1 LB (455 G) GROUND RABBIT LOIN AND BELLY, MEDIUM-LARGE GRIND 
KOSHER SALT AND FRESHLY GROUND BLACK PEPPER 
UNSALTED BUTTER FOR SERVING 
DUMPLINGS OF YOUR CHOICE, JUST COOKED 
GRATED PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO CHEESE FOR SERVING 

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until the fat renders and the pancetta barely begins to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the onion, fennel, rosemary, sage, thyme, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes and cook until the onion and pancetta are soft and slightly caramelized, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir to combine. 

Turn the heat to low and cook until the tomato thickens and begins to caramelize, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the red wine, raise the heat to medium-low, and cook until the wine is almost completely evaporated, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock and simmer very gently until the sauce is reduced to about one-third, about 20 minutes. 

Add the rabbit to the sauce, stirring to break up any lumps, and simmer just until the meat is soft, tender, and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Rabbit is lean, so it does not require much cooking time.

Season the sauce with salt and pepper and discard the herb sprigs and bay leaves. 

(To store, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 1 month. To thaw, place in the refrigerator overnight or until fully thawed.) 

To finish dumplings with the ragu, for each serving, warm 1/2 cup (120 ml) of ragu in a saute pan over medium heat and add 1½ tsp to 1 Tbsp butter per serving, depending on how naughty you feel. Gently simmer about 4 minutes, until the bubbles get large and the sauce is not watery along the edges of the pan. Add the cooked dumplings and simmer for 1 minute to let the dumplings absorb the flavor of the sauce. Spoon into serving bowls and top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Serve right away. 

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Starry Starry Nights Cookies

These days it’s becoming more and more likely that when you bring baked goods to a party or other event, you’ll encounter several guests who need to know what ingredients were used and if they need to avoid the item in question. I’ve been trying to bring optional offerings to events when possible like gluten free, dairy free, vegan, etc. The latest book from Gesine Bullock-Prado will make this much easier. Let Them Eat Cake is another treat-filled, fun book just like all her others, but this time, every single recipe also has three additional variations to make it vegan, gluten free, or healthier. I received a review copy. Vegan versions, obviously, replace all animal products with plant-based ingredients. So, eggs are replaced with flaxseed meal or a vegan egg replacer product, honey is replaced with agave syrup, and butter is replaced with a vegan butter substitute. Gluten free versions swap out wheat flour for other varieties, and the liquid quantities may change. For the healthier options, the primary changes include using some whole wheat pastry flour in place of all purpose, using organic coconut palm sugar instead of granulated, and in some cases, using some pureed fruit in place of some of the fat. It’s so convenient to have all these options in one place for each recipe. The recipes themselves are classics like we’ve come to expect from Gesine. There’s a checkerboard Battenberg cake covered in marzipan; a Key Lime Double Rainbow Cake with six shades of yellow and orange among the layers; and a Lemon Chiffon Strawberry Cake with mint and almond pastry cream, strawberry coulis, and cake layers. There are also cookies, quickbreads, pies, ice creams, and candies. The little pop tarts on sticks are too cute to resist, and I need to make the Killer Coffee Cake soon. But first, I had to make some cookies. The Starry Starry Nights are described as a chocolate truffle in cookie-form, and they’re already gluten free in the original recipe. 

This is a simple-enough cookie to make, but the process does require planning for chilling at two different stages. It’s made with almond flour and no other flour, so there’s no change for an option with no gluten. To start, eggs, coconut palm sugar, and honey were combined in a stand mixer. Chopped 70% cacao chocolate was melted with some butter in a double boiler and left to cool. Almond flour, cocoa powder, and salt were combined in a separate bowl. The melted chocolate was added to the almond flour mixture and stirred to combine. The whipped egg mixture was added in parts to the chocolate mixture. The first quarter of the egg mixture lightened the chocolate mixture, and the remaining egg mixture was gently folded in. Once mixed, this was covered and refrigerated for at least two hours. The mixture needs to be firm enough to scoop just like making truffles. When the batter was chilled and firm, small balls were scooped and then rolled in sugar before being placed on a parchment lined baking sheet. The scooped cookies can be placed close together here since they’ll be chilled in the freezer before baking. When all the cookies were formed, the sheet pan was covered with plastic and placed in the freezer for a couple of hours. They went almost straight from the freezer to the oven with a short stop for a second coating of sugar before being spaced farther apart on a baking sheet. They baked for about 10-12 minutes. 

For the second coating of sugar on the cookies, I used demerara sugar for the big, crunchy crystals. That also made my Starry Starry Nights have more of an amber-hued twinkle, but they were still glittery. Calling these baked truffles is exactly right. This is the perfect cookie for chocolate lovers, and each one packs a lot of flavor into its small size. Now, when I need to offer multiple options for baked goods or if I ever need to make a vegan caramel sauce, I know where to look. 

Starry Starry Nights 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Let Them Eat Cake

You know what I love about these cookies? They are the most delicious and chocolaty treats you’ll ever eat. And they’re gluten free from the get-go. When I first created them in 2004, it wasn’t my intention to make a gluten-free cookie; I just wanted to get as close to a “baked truffle” as I could muster. I wanted a cookie that you could keep around for your chocolate fix but that wouldn’t melt like a chocolate truffle. You can freeze them for up to a month after baking and just pop one in your mouth when you need a fix! 

{ MAKES 50 SMALL COOKIES } 

2 large eggs 
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar 
1 tablespoon honey 
10 ounces (280 g) bittersweet chocolate (like Lindt 70%), finely chopped 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter 
1 cup (100 g) almond flour or very finely ground blanched slivered almonds 
2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder (like Cacao Barry Extra Brute) 
1/2 teaspoon salt 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the eggs, 1/4 cup (50 g) of the sugar, and the honey. Mix on high speed until the mixture ribbons thickly. 

Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water (to make a double boiler) until melted. Let cool slightly. 

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the almond flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Add the melted chocolate and stir well. Add one quarter of the egg mixture to the chocolate to lighten it, stirring with a wooden spoon until no egg streaks are visible. Add the remaining egg mixture and gently fold with a large rubber spatula until completely incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm, 2 hours to overnight. It is imperative that the mixture is incredibly firm. 

Put the remaining 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar in a small bowl. Fill a heatproof mug with very hot water. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. 

Using a teaspoon cookie scoop or a melon baller, first dip the scoop in the hot water and then scoop out a round of batter. Roll the ball in the sugar, then place it on the prepared pan (you can space them very close together to freeze; you will use another sheet pan to bake off). Continue to scoop and coat the balls. Cover the sheet pan with plastic wrap and freeze for 1 to 2 hours. 

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). 

Line another sheet pan with parchment, remove the cookie-filled sheet pan from the freezer, re-dip each cookie in sugar, and place the cookies 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart on the new sheet pan, placing any cookies that didn’t fit onto the sheet pan back in the freezer until their turn in the oven comes. Immediately bake for 10 minutes, turning the sheet pan after 5 minutes. The cookies will look slightly cracked but the sugar will not be browned when they are done baking. 

Healthier
Replace the sugar with 3/4 cup (130 g) organic granulated palm sugar or 3/4 cup (110 g) Sucanat. 

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Rice Noodles with Green Onions and Edamame

What happens when one of my most favorite cookbooks is given a part two to accompany it? I go through many, many Post-it flags marking pages. I’ve been reading and marking pages in Plenty More and looking forward to various vegetables coming into season. I can’t wait for summer to try Dakos made with ripe tomatoes, Corn Slaw, and Eggplant with Black Garlic. After my first glance at this new book, I was worried that this was just the collection of dishes that weren’t quite good enough for the original Plenty. And, I still don’t think that first book can be surpassed, but the more time I spend with Plenty More the more I find to love about it. The Urad Dal with freshly grated coconut, the Polenta Chips with Avocado and Yogurt dipping sauce, and the Taleggio and Spinach Roulade are all competing for the top spot on my list of what to make next. Every dish combines flavors, textures, and colors that are hard to resist. For spring, the Fava Bean Spread with Roasted Garlic Ricotta; the Sprout Salad Part Two with radishes, kohlrabi, carrot, and avocados; and the Rice Noodles with Green Onions and Edamame are bursting with bright, fresh tastes. I can never turn away from a noodle salad especially one that’s this easy to make. 

I learned a trick from Dorie Greenspan for cooking rice noodles in advance and letting them stand until time to serve. You just rinse and drain them after cooking and then toss them with a little oil to prevent sticking. That same technique is employed here. The cooked, rinsed, drained, and oil-tossed noodles are set aside and covered to keep them warm. Next, sliced green onions and serranos were stir fried in a wok, and blanched, frozen edamame were added. The noodles were added to the wok along with sesame oil, black and white sesame seeds, rice vinegar, and chopped cilantro. The dish was served garnished with lime zest and more sesame seeds with lime wedges on the side. 

This was intended to be served warm from the wok which I did, but the cold leftovers from the refrigerator the next day were delicious too. The lime and chiles work their way through the few other ingredients to brighten the whole dish. This book is going on the shelf next its older sibling for now, but neither of them will be left sitting for long. 

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cornmeal with Rosemary and Parmigiano Biscotti

There’s a lot to love about biscotti. You can go a very traditional route with them or veer off into all sorts of creative directions. For Christmas this past year, I got creative by baking big, mocha latte biscotti with chocolate chips in them that got drizzled with a white chocolate-espresso glaze. I’ve also made a peanut butter version and some that were fully dipped in chocolate. But, I’m also a big fan of the more proper, Italian almond cantucci that are subtly sweet, nutty, and all about the crunch. When visiting our friends who had just returned from a trip to Florence, they served us almond cantucci with Vin Santo for an after dinner treat. That combination proves that sometimes simple is most definitely better. And, the wonderful thing about Ciao Biscotti, the new book from Domenica Marchetti, is that it covers the full spectrum of biscotti making. I received a review copy of the book. The recipes begin with more traditional, nutty versions and one that even has Vin Santo in the dough. And, then there is a series of chocolate options including one that it is half lemon and half chocolate. There are dried fruit-filled flavors and suggestions for glazing and topping the cookies. Among the Fantasy Flavors, there’s even a Green Tea with White Chocolate Glaze. Next, you’ll find the chapter for The Savory Side. I’ve baked a lot of different kinds of biscotti, but I had never tried a savory one. I couldn’t wait. Mountain Gorgonzola with Walnuts, Pepper Jack and Green Peppercorn, and Sun-Dried Tomato and Fennel all sounded delicious, but I stopped everything to bake the Cornmeal with Rosemary and Parmigiano. The first few times I ever made biscotti, I had anxiety about cutting the slender cookies and how long to bake them for the second bake. I now realize that the issue was that I was following recipes that weren’t well-conceived. The instructions in this book are clear; there are clues for what to look for at each stage; and the baking times are specific for the type of biscotti being made. 

For these crunchy, savory cookies, you begin by combining flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a mixer. I used a local, heirloom variety of cornmeal from Richardson Farms. The dry ingredients were mixed briefly to combine. Next, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, sliced toasted almonds, and chopped rosemary were added and mixed. Small chunks of butter, beaten eggs, and milk were added last, and the dough was turned out onto a board. It was divided into two pieces that were each formed into a long loaf shape. The goal is to end up with small biscotti, so the dough loaves were stretched long and kept narrow. The dough was brushed with egg before it was baked at 350 degrees F for about 25 minutes. After the first bake, the loaves were left to cool for about 20 minutes before being cut into pieces. For this recipe, the cookies were cut to a thickness of about one-third inch. For the second bake, you can place the cookies cut-side-down and bake for 20 minutes, turn them over, and bake for another 20 minutes. Or, another tip I learned from Alice Medrich is to stand the biscotti on edge so both cut sides are exposed to the heat of the oven, and bake for the full 35 – 40 minutes rotating the baking sheet at the halfway point. If you want to check the crunchiness of the biscotti to decide if they should bake longer, you’ll need to remove one and let it cool before tasting. They get crunchier as they cool. 

The parmesan and rosemary smelled fantastic as the biscotti baked. I imagined several ways to use them like for dipping into a bowl of minestrone or topping a salad with them. But, the suggestion in the book for serving them with Chianti Classico was a perfect pre-dinner nibble with wine. I’m delighted to see the world of biscotti get a little bigger with the addition of a savory side. 

Cornmeal with Rosemary and Parmigiano 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Ciao Biscotti

1 Tbsp vegetable oil 
1 1⁄2 cups/185 g unbleached all-purpose flour 
1⁄2 cup/70 g fine cornmeal 
1 tsp baking powder 
1⁄4 tsp fine sea salt 
1 cup/80 g grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 
1 cup/100 g sliced almonds, toasted 
1 Tbsp finely minced fresh rosemary
6 Tbsp/85 g unsalted butter, cut into 1⁄2-in/12-mm pieces, at cool room temperature 
2 large eggs, lightly beaten 
2 to 4 Tbsp half-and-half or milk 

Makes about 50 biscotti 

Fine-ground cornmeal adds a delicate crunch and pretty golden hue to these rosemary-infused biscotti. Slice these thinly and serve them with a nice runny cheese.  

Heat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Lightly coat an 11-by-17-in/28-by-43-cm rimmed baking sheet with the oil. Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix briefly on low speed. Add the cheese, almonds, and rosemary and mix to combine. Add the butter in pieces and mix on medium-low speed until the mixture looks like damp sand. Set aside 1 Tbsp of the beaten eggs. Combine the remaining eggs with 2 Tbsp half-and-half and pour into the mixing bowl. Mix on medium speed until a soft, slightly sticky dough has formed. Add the remaining half-and-half if necessary to make the dough come together. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it into a disk. Divide it in half. Lightly moisten your hands with water and gently roll one portion of dough into a rough oval. Place it lengthwise on one half of the baking sheet and use your hands and fingers to stretch and pat the dough into a log about 2 1/2 in/6 cm wide and 12 in/30 cm long. Shape the second piece of dough in the same way, moistening your hands as necessary. Press down on the logs to flatten them out a bit and make the tops even. Brush the reserved egg over the tops of the logs. 

Bake the logs for 25 to 30 minutes, or until they are lightly browned and just set—they should be springy to the touch and there should be cracks on the surface.
Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack. Gently slide an offset spatula under each log to loosen it from the baking sheet. Let the logs cool for 5 minutes, and then transfer them to the rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300°F/150°C. 

Transfer the cooled logs to a cutting board and, using a Santoku knife or a serrated bread knife, cut them on the diagonal into 1/3-in-/8-mm-thick slices. Arrange the slices, cut-side up, on the baking sheet (in batches if necessary) and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the slices over and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until they are crisp and golden. Transfer the slices to the rack to cool completely. The biscotti will keep for up to 10 days in an airtight container stored at room temperature. 

What to drink: Chianti Classico. 

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Southern Hummus

How do you change the direction of 100 years of family cooking while honoring the traditions? That’s what Alice Randall and her daughter Caroline Randall Williams set out to do. They chronicled their family history and their desire to change their eating habits for the better in their new book Soul Food Love, and I received a review copy. The book begins with stories about three generations and five different kitchens and the types of cooking in each. The goal for mother and daughter was to keep the flavors from the past while fine-tuning approaches to arrive at healthy dishes for celebrations and every day. They’ve written of the historical complexity of the kitchen for many African-American families. “(The kitchen) has been a place of servitude and scarcity, and sometimes violence, as well as a place of solace, shelter, creativity, commerce, and communion.” When excess appeared in the kitchen, foods began causing illness rather than nourishing families. The authors want to change that pattern by offering dishes that are easy to make part of your home-cooking routine and are free of guilt. The Soups chapter begins with a few homemade broths, and one of them is Sweet Potato Broth. It’s a puree of cooked sweet potatoes in water with onion, celery, and carrot, and it sounds like a delicious base for lots of soups. It’s used in the Sweet Potato, Kale, and Black-Eyed Pea Soup and the Peanut Chicken Stew. There are several fresh and light salads like Savory Avocado Salad with Corn, Peppers, and Cilantro and New-School “Fruit” Salad with watermelon, cherry tomatoes, avocados, and feta. There are also updates to dishes made with practical ingredients like canned fish. The story behind the Salmon Croquettes with Dill Sauce brought back memories of the mackerel cakes my Mom used to make that I loved. Likewise, there’s a story about how eating sardines used to be thought of as a hardship, but now we know that they’re a healthy and sustainable choice. The recipes nicely weave together the best of the past with a health-conscious look forward. 

I was intrigued by the Southern Hummus recipe because as many times as I’ve made hummus, I’d never thought of using peanut butter in place of the tahini. Since I usually have some natural peanut butter on hand but not always tahini, this means I can make hummus even more often. It’s an easy puree in the food processor of natural peanut butter, lemon juice, and chopped fresh garlic. Next, rinsed and drained canned chickpeas, warm water, ground cumin, salt and pepper, and olive oil were added and pureed. I suspect there’s a typo in the book. The ingredient quantities seem to be meant for two cans of chickpeas. So, if using one can, the other ingredients should be reduced by half. Later in the book, there’s a recipe for a Moorish Pizza which is pita topped with hummus, baba ghanoush, and chopped parsley. I couldn’t resist going that route with this hummus even though I didn't have any baba ghanoush on had. I warmed a fresh, whole wheat pita over the flame of a burner until toasted and crisp. Then, I spread some hummus on top and sprinkled on chopped parsley. I gave it a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and cut it into wedges. 

This is going to be my new way of making hummus. I liked the flavor of the peanut butter in it even more than the usual flavor of tahini. And, the pita pizza made my day. It would be perfect with cocktails too. This book got me thinking about family food traditions and how to preserve them to make sure they’re not forgotten and update them as needed. I’m sure there are lots of dishes just waiting for a fresh take. 

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