28 June 2011

Handmade Tortillas + A Delicious Tart

Just last post, I had made pitas from scratch, just-in-time for the meal. This week, I did the same with corn tortillas. Both of these are members of a very illustrious family of bread products - ComesInALargePackThatGoesBadBeforeICanEatThemAll. They are from Qwlghm, you see, where last names are much more descriptive than your Continental sensibilities may prefer. If time goes on, I may be forced to make the last member of the family--hot dog buns--though I don't think they can be made with as short of a notice as tortillas. Which, by the way, can be made with about 30 minutes of warning and very little work. They don't necessarily look pretty, though, but the taste is there.
Also, it only requires two ingredients, one of which you are sure to have handy. The other might require visiting a specialty food store, or one with a large bulk selection, but can be purchased in large quantities.  To go with the tortillas, E made a salsa fresca with tomato, corn, onion, and lime. There was no cilantro to be found at the grocer, so it lacked the kick one would expect. This wasn't helped by myself, chef of the main course, which was... unseasoned beans and rice. Now, these were delicious beans but still lacking in kick. I couldn't bring myself to use Sriracha on the meal, but red pepper flakes worked in a pinch.
There was also the matter of dessert. It being berry season made this a rather easy decision, and after searching around a bit we ended up with this crumble recipe. The reason? It said "Oatmeal" in the title, and I love oatmeal. Seems to be a good recipe selection tool, that. We quartered the recipe linked, which was hard with the salt and cinnamon, and also left out the almond extract (didn't notice). We used less sugar than requested (about 1 cup if doing the full recipe) due to a 50/50 split of raspberries and ridiculously sweet blackberries. It cooked in ramekins; one for myself, one for E, and one split for breakfast the next day. A good amount of dessert, though the cooling time was unbearable with the smell in my kitchen.
Corn Tortillas
Makes 2 tortillas (enough for one person, recipe easily scales)
1/4 cup masa harina
2 tbsp + 1 tsp hot water
pinch of salt
cast iron pan

In a small bowl, combine the masa harina and water and mix with a spoon. It won't quite form into a cohesive ball but should rather clump up. When squeezed by hand, it should form into one piece. If it is sticky at all, consider adding more flour. If it doesn't squeeze into a ball by hand, add a pinch of water at a time until it does. If making enough for one, you can lazily knead it in your hands. If making more, knead on an unfloured work surface. The first time we cooked them, they were a tad on the dry side; when I tried again the next night, they were too sticky. Based on this, I'll say the consistency you should aim for is kneads fine, but when you fold it back over itself it may rip a little instead of stretching.
The dough dries out very quickly, you can always let it sit a bit longer to dry it out. After kneading, put it in something covered for at least 20 minutes. Heat a cast iron pan over medium heat until it is warm. If you have a tortilla press, use it. Otherwise, tear off a golf-ball-ish chunk, roll it between your hands into a ball and flatten slightly. Between two pieces of plastic wrap, carefully roll the ball out into something resembling a tortilla. If the dough is too wet, it will stick and get ruined. Transfer to pan and cook for about 10-30 seconds, then flip it. Cook for a minute, then flip back to the original side and cook for up to a minute longer. Keep warm, or eat quickly, as it will harden if you let it cool.

20 June 2011

Oops, I (Didn't) Pop It Again

The one time I'm making bread that is supposed to pop, it doesn't. Or maybe it did and I missed it. Rotten luck, although tasty luck. I tried to make a pita pocket; I got something like a flatbread that I then formed a pocket in by jamming a knife into it. Turns out making something that tastes like a pita from scratch is pretty easy, and if you've got ~2 hours lead time on your meal that needs pitas, I would go for it. Although if the weather gods are smiling and the temperature is reaching 80, hotter inside of course, you may want to hold off on it. A 500 degree oven isn't the best thing for staying cool.
In addition to the pita, we've got a fairly standard "greek" plate - tomato, cucumber, eggplant hummus, and grilled cheese (not the sandwich kind). I can't remember the brand name of cheese I use to grill - it is, roughly, a feta that browns when you cook it in a pan or grill it. It doesn't need any oil, and it is wonderfully delicious. The pita recipe below is adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice lavash cracker recipe, which it recommends as pita dough as well.
Light Wheat Pita
Makes a single pita, takes ~2 hours from start to eat
1/2 cup flour, about 33% whole wheat bread flour and 66% unbleached bread flour
scant 1/4 tsp salt
scant 1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp honey
1 tsp olive oil
pinch of fennel
pinch of cumin
2 tbsp + 1 tsp water, potentially another tsp more.

In a small bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Add in the honey, olive oil, and water, and stir by hand with a spoon for a minute. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead for 5-10 minutes. The dough should have some stretch in it, but won't pass the windowpane test (unless you use a bit more water, or use 100% unbleached bread flour instead of mixing in some whole wheat). Form the dough into a ball, lightly oil it, and let rest, covered, for 90 minutes at room temperature.

Give your oven enough time to preheat to 500 degrees and, if you have a baking stone or a cast iron pan, let that preheat as well. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into, roughly, a pita shape. Place it on parchment paper and transfer to the baking stone/iron pan, or if you have neither put it on a baking sheet.

The book recommended cooking until the instant at which the pita "pops", waiting 10 seconds, and removing from oven. My oven doesn't have a window on it, so I had to guess. 8 minutes was too long. If you let it cook too long, don't worry - it will be slightly crispy compared to a pita, but you can still murder it into having a pocket-like cavity within which to hide delicious morsels. Let it cool for at least 15 minutes, then cut off a sliver from the top and spread it open.

If you want to make more, know that the recipe as prescribed (and then thirded by me) asked for 1/6 tsp of salt and yeast, not the "scant 1/4 tsp" I have listed above. But, as I've never seen a 1/6 tsp measure before, and I didn't feel like solving a logic puzzle to measure out 1/6 tsp using a 1/4 tsp and a 1/3 tsp (you can do it in two measures, so I guess I did feel like solving it), you can just fake it.

19 June 2011

Herbal Tongue Twister

For this weekends cooking adventure, we pulled another recipe from The Herbal Kitchen. We've done two recipes from the book before, both excellent meals with no daunting prep. And, again, the book delivers an easy, delicious meal. It also contained my favorite ingredient (kale) and one of E's (pork). Sadly, my photos all came out rather blurry and I won't post the recipe because it is straight from a cookbook. Instead, you'll get the least-blurry of the photos and a brief description of the recipe - anyone who has cooked a few times should be able to figure something delicious out. Without further distractions, the meal complete with centerpiece:
The basic idea behind the meal is you take one hard to pronounce pasta (orecchiette) and one delicious pork product (pancetta). Try saying those together ten times. While the pasta cooks, you brown the pancetta then add in garlic and pepper flakes, followed by diced kale. As that begins to brown, you throw in a little liquid for the finish, add in the paste, and toss it with parmigiano-reggiano. You eat it and are happy. You have it for leftovers, cold, from the tupperware, and notice that it is more delicious that way.

16 June 2011

Reruns, But No Less Delicious

I took a bit of a break from cooking the past weeks, which means no blog posts. Actually, that isn't quite true - I did do a bit of cooking this past weekend, but it was over a camp stove. Not anything fancy, not anything worth writing home about. To prep, though, I did make two loves of lovely lovely Struan, using the Artisan Breads Everyday recipe. It served us well, making all kinds of sandwiches you can imagine, as long as said sandwiches used an ingredient from the set of {peanut butter, jelly, cheddar cheese, honey}. So, really, not too hard to imagine all those sandwiches. E did have one suggestion, which I will try next time - removing the buttermilk in the recipe. Struan is incredibly soft and almost fatty for a bread, and it really doesn't need to be. I think a straight replacement of beer for the buttermilk might do the trick.
Not actually the struan
Due to the wonders of owning a car in San Francisco, I have to move it many mornings for street cleaning, where they run a loud truck down your street with an escort of parking ticket providers. On the plus side, I get to enjoy coffee and a snack at a random coffee shop while working. I also took advantage of this time to finally make ciabatta, pictured above. It is the same rustic recipe I use for mini baguettes, but it requires a much longer proof time. Three hours is what the book recommends - one of just sitting there, then two hours of proofing after shaping. I think the long time is to give the dough time to settle into its shape lest it rise up against you. Well, I'm not a very good oppressor. Look at that hunchback of a loaf.
The tastiness was not impacted. The cooking time may have been a bit off - book recommended 12 minutes, rotate, 15-20 minutes more. I gave it 12 + 20 and it wasn't quite done when I finally cut into it. I think the crustiness improvement method should have been used - after the allotted baking time, shut off the oven but leave the bread in it for 5 extra minutes.
The struan

06 June 2011

Cooking Beans, the Long Way

Beans and rice is a standard dish of mine. It takes about 30 minutes, I don't have to do any work, and I can throw whatever veggies I happen to have lying around on top of it and get something, if not delicious, at least enjoyable. But, just for the hell of it, I decided to make a 30 minute dish into a 3+ hour dish. The trick? Beans not-from-a-can, but rather from a bag. Some of the best (plain) beans I've ever had, in fact. And to add to the adventure, the vegetable of choice was nopales (otherwise known as cactus).
I followed the directions of the nice people who sold the beans for cooking - soaking optional, simmer for 2-3 hours, salt at the very end. I used a shallot for seasoning, although it mostly dissolved after three hours in a pot of simmering water. The beans, magically, survived. Nopales is also fun to cook; I've had it many times before so I knew the flavor was going to be good - something like a green pepper or okra. Apparently, they also produce a very gooey, glue-like liquid when you cook them. It isn't as bad as okra, but it sure was a surprise. Wikipedia, of course, knew all about this and didn't even try and warn me; now it just taunts me with big words like "mucilaginous" and the knowledge that, in the olden days, marshmallows were actually made from marshmallows (and sugar, too).
A note on the beans - they really were worth the extra time. They were much smoother, and had hints of nuts or chocolate in the flavor. Hell, they had a flavor - besides a dash of salt and the (mostly tasteless) shallot, I didn't do anything to them. Much more satisfying than yet-another can of {pinto, black, kidney, white, garbanzo} beans and, if you care about these things, quite a bit cheaper (even though I got the heirloom rustic pampered and massaged beans).
 _______________o _______________
Rice, Beans, and Nopales
(3+ hours - save this one for a Sunday)
some amount dry beans (I used Good Mother Stallard which you really should buy)
1 nopale
1 shallot, lazily diced
some amount rice
olive oil handy

To prepare the beans, lightly rinse the beans. In a pot, add some olive oil and brown the shallots. Add beans in, and add enough water to get about an inch above the beans. Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat to the lowest simmer you can manage, and cover. Let cook for two, three, or even four hours - until the beans get soft. You may need to add in water every so often; make sure to bring it back to a boil and then simmer again if doing so. It may be easier to pre-boil the water you wish to add in a tea kettle.
Once the beans get soft and have lost their wonderful speckled color, add in a little salt and shut off heat. To cook nopales, cut it into strips (and hopefully the thorns have been removed, but if not do so yourself somehow). In a small pan, add some olive oil and cook over medium until they change color to a pale green instead of a bright green. Season however you wish (I used a pinch of cinnamon and some crushed pepper).

Cook the rice, put a good amount in a bowl with some beans and the nopales, and eat it.

03 June 2011

Breakfast of Chumpions

That would have been Breakfast of Champions, but I was making it. And I don't really learn from past mistakes. I made my vegan pancakes again to round out a breakfast of drip and a shortbread cookie, to see if I had in fact ruined the cookies. Rewind - I made shortbread cookies last night. It was late, I was tired, and I wasn't too patient. I didn't properly cream the butter and sugar before adding flour, I didn't roll the dough out thin enough, and I didn't pre-cut the cookies deep enough. Oh, I also put on too much salt/not enough chocolate. They still taste good, but are not pretty.
Back to the pancakes: I scaled it down from 1/2 cup flour to 1/3 cup flour (so 1/3 cup milk, etc). I used spelt flour this time, so they look much more like pancakes and act much more like pancakes than the buckwheat version. The one thing I forgot to scale - the banana. I still put in half, and of a large one at that. Looking at them, you would think them a delicious and beautiful specimen of veganus pancakinar. You would be right - just a mushy one. They look cooked, but when the batter is about 1/3 or so banana, you can't really cook something through. Lesson learned: less banana in the batter.
Also, I got semolina flour so I went right into cooking with it. The recipe I want to cook needs 3 nights, and I wanted the bread for the next day, so I scrapped it. I did my standard mini baguettes (a very liquid dough) and replaced a full 50% of the flour (by weight) with semolina flour. The dough took forever to firm up - not until the 3rd stretch and fold (of 4) was I really doing much besides letting it ooze, and that was after giving it an extra 10 minutes to hydrate. If doing a similar substitution, you should probably do a soak before adding the yeast and moving on to stretching (that is, combine the flour and water, stir, and let it sit for 20 minutes or so before moving on with the recipe). Also dill in bread is pretty gross when you put in as much as I did, so don't put in as much as I did. Luckily I didn't measure at all so I'm free to repeat my mistakes in the future. Go me!