Saturday, January 22, 2011

today's lesson: the joys of homemade biscotti are not to beunderestimated.

i'm a biscotti freak. i buy bags of mini biscotteenies and go through them every few days. they're a great snack and an even better dessert when dipped in chocolate.

these maple almond and chocolate chip biscotti are a hobbit invention, a sort of mishmash of other blog recipes that called for nuts which my dear mother's allergy would not allow. somehow, almonds are still a go. nonetheless, i ended up tossing in chocolate chips because we ran out of almonds. point is: feel free to go wild with the mix-ins, just make sure they amount to about 1/2 to 3/4 cup.

this was also an experiment in using maple syrup as a sweetener, which offers a certain nuttiness that sugar can't. i really enjoy a strong maple flavor so i put in 2/3 cup of syrup. if you're looking for a more subtle taste, 1/2 cup will be fine - just be prepared to add a tablespoon or so of water in the event that the dough is too dry.

the final morsel of advice i would offer is to handle your biscotti after the first bake as gently as you might a newborn infant. or a baby ferret. using a serrated knife and cutting your pieces a bit thicker will help ensure they don't crumble before you get them on the baking pan a second time.

die zutaten:

1 + 3/4 cups white flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup maple syrup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1 tbsp cold water, as needed
1/2 cup melted chocolate (for dipping!)

preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease your pan.

in a large mixing bowl, mix all dry ingredients together. add wet ingredients, including almonds and chocolate chips. if your dough is feeling a bit dry and flakey, adding one tablespoon of water should get it to adhere. scoop the dough out of the bowl and place on your baking pan. shape it into one or two logs and flatten using your fingertips until they are about 1/2 inch thick. i made mine in one log as i like a longer biscotti, but if you prefer a shorter cookie, two logs is the way to go.

bake for about 22 minutes until the top of each log is firm and the bottom edges are slightly browned. remove from the oven and slide off the baking sheet onto a cutting board or wire rack. leave to cool about 10 minutes.

with a large knife (preferably serrated), cut the log diagonally into slices. these can be as thick or thin as you like (i went about 1/2 inch thick) but be careful about slicing them too thin. place them cut side down back on the baking pan. lower the temperature to 325 degrees and bake for about another 12-16 minutes. the longer you bake it, the crisper your end product will be. don't worry if the dough still feels slightly soft - it will harden and dry out a bit once removed from the oven.

finally, melt some chocolate in the microwave or on the stove, and after the biscotti have cooled at least 10 minutes, dunk or drizzle away! place in refrigerator for about 20 minutes to harden. enjoy with a warm cup of chai or a cool glass of milk.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

pizza redux!

finally: restitution! yours truly has conquered the art of pizza dough making! well, i suppose, put only slightly more humbly/accurately: i recently learned how to successfully make a dough from scratch that is light, crispy, delectable and (honestly, most importantly) digestible.

i know, i know: julia childs, watch your back. the hobbit chef is gaining momentum and it's just a matter of time before i'm whipping up coq au vin with a side of steak au poivre on a daily basis.

in any case, it was my dear mother who inspired me to take on the (what had become) dreaded pizza dough and try and find something that was manageable and delicious. i have to admit that there is something very satisfying about enjoying a complete meal you yourself brought together from lots of raw ingredients. and it definitely helps when the end product is better than any premade dough you find in a grocery store. which, coincidentally, is exactly what this is!

i did a bit of internet scouting and ended up finding my way back to the trusted smitten kitchen blog. while her list of pizza recipes is extensive, i must admit that i was, in all my vulnerability, drawn to her allegedly really simple homemade pizza post... to which i can only say: wow, was that a good decision. it's very easy and requires only brief bouts of concentration and limited ingredients. mostly, you just need a few hours at home. if you're not making it on the weekend, you could also make it one evening on the side and eat it the next. the dough will certainly stay good in the fridge for a few days.

her recipe makes one small thin crust pizza. naturally, i doubled that to make enough for 4 people (and 3 puppies, all of whom spend the bulk of mealtimes scurrying rapidly underneath the table competing for my dad's charitable scraps).

you'll need:

1 1/2 cups white flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water (may need up to 1 or 2 tablespoons more)
1 tablespoon olive oil

stir dry ingredients, including yeast, in a bowl. add in the water and olive oil, stirring mixture into as close to a ball as you can. if it's still a bit flakey, go ahead and add an extra tablespoon or two of water. dump all the clumps and floury bits onto a lightly floured surface and knead everything into a cohesive ball.

the all-time best tip mentioned in the recipe is to simply take a brief pause if this step is getting frustrating and the ball isn't well, balling. leave the dough in a lightly-floured spot, put the empty bowl upside-down on top of it and come back in 5 minutes. the dough will somehow, in these 5 minutes, have realized the error of its stubborn ways and be much more willing to cooperate.

knead it for a couple of minutes. grab the bowl you were using and coat with a light spritz of cooking spray. put the dough in and roll it around so all sides are coated. cover it in plastic wrap and leave it in peace for about two hours, until it has doubled in size.

put it back on the floured surface from before and gently press the air out of the dough with the palm of your hands. fold the piece into an approximate ball shape, and let it sit under that plastic wrap for another half hour. if you're going to leave it longer, you can put it in the fridge after that half hour to keep until you're ready to go.

put your pizza stone in a cold oven and preheat your oven to its top temperature (heat is your BFF when making pizza!). this also helps the stone absorb the heat evenly. roll out the pizza and throw on your preferred toppings and seasonings. this time, we started with a thin layer of tomato sauce followed by red onions, black olives, broccoli, and spinach and mushrooms (which have been cooked and drained before). and then (most importantly?!) cheese: a three cheese blend of mozzarella, asiago, and jack.

bake it for about 10 minutes until the dough is crispy, the cheese sizzly, and you just can't take it anymore.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

über-easy and new-years-resolution-compatible pumpkin chocolate chipbread.

someone got a new camera! a camera from which someone's blog (not to mention someone's blog's viewers) will highly profit. in case you yourself are in the market: it's a canon powershot g12, and it's heaven. i've only had it for a few weeks now, but i must already confess that the days are a bit brighter and the nights a bit warmer with this new gadget in hand. i won't get into the fact that my three dogs now walk around terrified of the lady with the big black box that flashes lightning in their eyes when they approach it. but they too will learn to love it, i am sure.

it's also a huge motivation to cook more and post recipes because of the faith i have that every dish - no matter how disastrous or discolored - will be made to look positively delightful through my new lens. certainly takes the pressure off of making edible, attractive dishes. (am i joking? am i not?! muaha!).

i know i advertised in one of my recent entries that i'd be posting the recipe for a banana bread that disappeared within 24 hours of its debut on the kitchen counter. well, what do you know - it turns out i can actually do you one better: this chocolate chip pumpkin bread vanished within (scout's honor) 18 hours of its oven release. that is, except for the final tiny head of the loaf which then remained untouched on the counter for a 6 days... my family is silly.

it's really simple, especially if you start with a can of pumpkin puree, but you could also make your own puree. the recipe is almost vegan - minus the egg whites - so making and consuming this bread could in fact be part and parcel of any and all healthy new years resolutions. a coincidink indeed!


1 cup white sugar

1 cup canned pumpkin

1/4 cup canola oil

1/4 cup Greek yogurt (i used whole but fat-free would work too)

2 large egg whites

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2 tsp ground cinnamon

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

cooking spray

preheat the oven to 350 degrees. combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. in another medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture, stirring just until moist. stir in chocolate chips. spoon batter into a loaf pan coated with cooking spray. 

bake for 40-45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. cool 15 minutes in pan, then remove. cool completely on wire rack. begin consumption ASAP! or i guess you could also wait a bit, if you're into that "self-control" thing.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

christmas brunch: mediterranean strata.

this strata first came into my life 3 years ago while camping out at my friend lizzy's parents' house in naperville, IL. it was a frigid january saturday morning made delightful by the late morning brunch we were lured out of our beds with by lizzy's mom. it was so delectable a meal that i swore i'd never eat another breakfast anywhere else for as long as i lived. ultimately, that solemn oath proved a wee bit tricky (it happens when you graduate from college and move across an ocean). however, years later, the chance to prepare this strata again at my own family's christmas brunch helped lessen the guilt of not being able to stay good on my promise.

i'll be frank: i'm a savory bruncher. it hasn't always been this way, but these days, i wouldn't even dream of turning down an omelette for waffles. unless they were pumpkin waffles (obviously). this strata is a savory (and vegetarian! and healthy freak!) kind of heaven. veggies? check. eggs? check. bread? double check.. for the double layer. the first time you make it, it takes a bit of concentration - and panic, if you're me and fearful of "ruining christmas" for your entire family - but the technique itself is quite simple and the results are amazing. my entire family (a family, i should mention, that could be understatedly described as carnivorous) was even lauding its praises. granted, i did ensure that each family member's plate was also graced with a hefty side of bacon. but nonetheless. it was a proud moment for their hippie vegetarian chef/daughter.

i made a few adjustments to the original recipe, and i could imagine that once you get it down the first time, you could experiment with throwing different herbs in (cilantro might be a nice addition), swap in another type of bread (sourdough or multigrain), or substitute a gouda or gruyere cheese for the feta and asiago. the original calls for some dijon mustard, which i cowardly omitted, but i'm confident about incorporating it next time.


2 french baguettes, cut into 1-inch-thick slices
cooking spray
1 cup chopped onions
4 garlic cloves
8 oz sliced mushrooms
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
14 oz baby spinach
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
5 tomatoes, thinly sliced
4 oz crumbled feta
3 oz grated asiago cheese
2 1/2 cups fat-free milk
2 tsp dried oregano
5 eggs, beaten
4 egg whites, beaten

preheat your oven to 350°.

place bread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

heat a large skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. toss in your onion, garlic, and mushrooms; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. sprinkle flour over mushroom mixture; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly so it doesn't stick to the pan (which it will if you leave it for a second!). add half the spinach; cook 3 minutes or until spinach wilts. add remaining spinach; cook 3 minutes or until spinach wilts. stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

now it's time to assemble. place half of bread slices in bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. spread the spinach and mushroom mixture over bread. top with a layer of tomato slices; sprinkle evenly with feta and half of Asiago cheese. arrange remaining bread slices over cheese. Combine 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, milk, and remaining ingredients, stirring well with a whisk. pour over bread; sprinkle with remaining Asiago cheese. cover and chill 8 hours or overnight.

next morning! preheat oven to 350°. uncover strata; bake at 350° for about 50 minutes or until lightly browned and the eggs are set. i baked it for 35 minutes uncovered, then another 10 minutes covered in tin foil, and then removed the foil for the last 5 minutes to get the top nice and brown. serve warm.