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Category Archives: cookbooks

Moroccan Meatless Monday

I have to admit that dinner tonight wasn’t intentionally meatless because we just planned to have the leftover soup from a cooking spree.  It also isn’t 100% meatless because it had chicken stock in it. So, it was almost meatless, and it could have been if I had used vegetable stock in the soup when making it.

The latest Cooks Illustrated arrived with a almost vegetarian version of harira, a traditional dried legume and pasta soup with a boatload of spices. Many versions of this soup contain lamb, which would probably elevate it to a whole new level.

These are just the dried spices. It also includes fresh ginger and garlic.

Why is all this so significant to me? Because, the soup was made by my husband who decided he wanted to start making soups this winter and picked a very unique one to begin with.

The soup begins with the onions, celery, garlic, ginger, some cilantro and parsley, the spices, the lentils and the chickpeas simmering away in a 50/50 mix of water and chicken stock. Not all that hard except for all the chopping and grating involved. Later, the container of strained tomatoes and the orzo get added with a slow simmer allowing the flavors to develop. Almost at the end, you add the greens. We didn’t have chard so we substituted collards.

The finished product gets fresh parsley and cilantro on top before serving, and a squeeze of lemon.

I admit. This would really rock with roasted lamb cubes in it. But, all by itself it is a hearty filling soup and I’m glad my husband decided he wanted to try it.

 

Baking

German Baking. Classic German Baking.

Most of my family is of German descent. I grew up with German influenced cooking and baking on both sides of the family. For me, the discovery of Luisa Weiss’s book, Classic German Baking, was a special treat for the holidays.

I opted to download the eBook when I found a great deal for it. I am glad I did it. I have already made two cookies for the holidays, and have dozens of treats bookmarked for the future.

Luissa’s Pfeffernüsse is far beyond those dry things you buy in the store.

I had to hide the container that I want to use for my Christmas gifts so my husband wouldn’t eat them all. I have to make more of these. I love them. Not really sweet, but just right. The secret to good German baking is finding ingredients. Like Baker’s Ammonia.

Thanks to Amazon Prime and “OliveNation” I had what I needed to make these cookies. For those of us really old, this is smelling salts. Seriously. But, it works to make the cookies vastly different from other non-traditional recipes.

I also made Vanillakipferl. The authentic version of almond crescents.

I went with the use of almond meal, and I also made my own vanilla sugar, by blitzing a vanilla bean, pod and all, in the sugar, and letting it mellow for a few days before using.

Fragile. Fresh from baking, and dredged in confectioner’s sugar mixed with vanilla sugar, these melt-in-our-mouth morsels are a memory of cookies my mom used to make. My paternal grandmother was born in Austria. These cookies are something special to me, as I pay tribute to my heritage.

Next year? I will work in advance to try Lebkuchen, which need time in advance to “age”, and who knows. Maybe I will spring for those Springerle molds.

I also have my eye on a cookie that reminds me of Berger’s cookies. That would be really bad for my waistline.

The Yeast Beast

Conquering yeast breads. One of those “bucket list” type items on an old list of things I wanted to do in retirement. With the challenge in my cookbook club this month being “Genius Recipes”, this one had to be included.

The famous No Knead Bread from Jim Lahey. Catapulted into the limelight more than 10 years ago by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. According to his website, it is one of the top ten recipes that are visited there.

There are many variations. The ratios, though, are fairly constant. The one from the book is a bit different in that it calls for active dry or instant yeast. As I learned later, every other recipe calls for instant yeast. It works with active dry as that is what was in my pantry at the moment, but I think it would be better with instant.

Here is what I did. Twice, now. Once plain. Once with dried rosemary added. First, I invested in a digital scale and made this recipe using weight, instead of measuring with cups and spoons.

Not a fancy scale, but certainly useful. Zeroed out with the bowl in it. Started with 400g of bread flour. Added 5g kosher salt, 1g yeast (I just used a 1/4 tsp for the yeast as it was so little change in weight). I thought it was interesting in the recipe that the 1 1/2 cups of cool water (55-65 degrees F) to be added used 360g for the measuring.

You mix it all together and then let it sit covered with a towel in a warm corner of your kitchen, out of direct sunlight. I let my first one rise for 12 hours, the second one for 20 hours. The longer rise gave me a bread that was definitely different. This scientific approach, although simple, is really quite educational and erased my trepidation with using yeast.

After the first rise, you flour a board. Dump the wet, sticky dough and pull into a round shape. Recommendations to use parchment paper for this will decrease the messiness of using a floured towel. This second rise or 1-2 hours wrapped loosely in the towel will just about double the dough ball. I used cornmeal for my first bread, and flour for the second.

Here is the first bread.

The crunchy cornmeal coating added to the flavor. It was crusty on the outside and dense, chewy, but with lots of air bubbles inside.

The directions call for you to use a heavy covered pot, like a Dutch oven. I used a Pyrex baking dish. It has to have a lid because what you are doing is creating an oven in your oven. The dish has to be preheated for a half hour at 475 degrees before dumping the dough from the towel into it. It will spread across the bottom. If you want a higher small boule, you need a pot that size.

This was my rosemary bread, dusted with flour. It was baked, covered, for 30 minutes, and uncovered for an additional 15 minutes. I have convection ovens so that last timing with the cover off will vary for those without air circulation. The recipe calls for 15-20 minutes uncovered.

The rosemary bread rose a bit more than the first bread.

Fresh from the oven, lifted out of the pot with a large spatula. Be careful as that pot is screaming hot at 475 degrees.

I will be making this easy recipe every chance I get. I do want to try some of the variations, like using a drizzle of olive oil, and adding sliced olives. Or, making a sweet bread with mini chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.

Google NoKnead Bread, if you want to mess around in your kitchen. Me, I need to get some instant yeast and see if it makes the bread rise more than mine. The slow “fermentation” of that 18 hour rise time makes this bread. It is almost foolproof.

Thanks to the Genius Recipe book by Kristen Miglore for rekindling my interest in baking bread, without fuss.

Cookbook Club

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In my last post, where I talk about all the ways we experimented with brining turkey, I mentioned the inspiration of the cookbook club. Friday I started cooking from the 10th book, a different one every month, and sharing it on social media with other “club” members. This version of an online community is managed by Food52, a popular web site for people obviously interested in food.

The club, a closed group on Facebook, has thousands of members. A small percentage of us cook and write about it. What is so interesting to me is seeing results, and comments, successes and failures, by cooks from around the world.  Seasonal cooking as well as regional cooking are thrown for a loop when the Aussies and Kiwis from the bottom of the world, and the Asians, the Europeans, the Canadians, South Americans and those of us Stateside all try and cook from the same book with ingredients we can source.

We vote for the books, three months at a time, a few months in advance. This allows us to reserve library books, or to have a book readily available worldwide.

This month? Food52 Genius Recipes by Kristen Miglore. I am lucky to have a great county library where I can reserve books, and then use online renewals to keep them for up to nine weeks if no one else requests them. I got the book in midNovember and started reading. I like this book quite a bit. Her column on line explores these great recipes in depth, and uses input to make them easy for anyone to tackle. Tweaks to them. Hints. Substitutions.

I needed to make cookies for a cookie party. I spent Friday doing one from this book and one from the latest Ottolenghi book, SWEET. Sweet is the book of the month for the baking version of our little online community. If you have never cooked from Ottolenghi’s books, you should get your hands on any of them and just have fun. I have all of them in eBook versions. The cookbook club in June let us loose on all of his previous books.

What did I bake?

From Genius Recipes I visited an old favorite. Molasses cookies from the Silver Palate. Mine spread too much. I think I didn’t let the dough chill enough. Still, they taste great and they look like lace cookies, which make them perfect tea cookies.

From Sweet, I made these absolutely amazing cranberry, oat, and almond cookies, covered in a white chocolate glaze. These disappeared immediately at our event Saturday. Not sugary at all. There is only a half cup of sugar in the entire batch, which made 48 cookies. The white chocolate is the right touch to make these really good. Perfect with a cup of tea. The online recipe for these cookies is on the Random House UK web page, The Happy Foodie.

I am working on my baking skills this month. In my CSA share, I am getting the flour and grain shares, which will be put to use often, as I work my way through the Genius Recipe book. Jim Lahey’s famous No Knead bread is on my short list, as is an interesting one grain ingredient cracker. More on whether I do these, and if they are successful, later this month.

As for why I am active in this community. I promised myself that I would continue to challenge myself in retirement. Trying new things. Different cuisines. Tackling that fear of baking. Within our little online group, we commiserate. We encourage. We share. Some of us aren’t as good at it as others. Doesn’t matter. We enjoy cooking and by seeing the results, we become determined to try a harder recipe, and expand our knowledge of techniques.

In February, the cooking club celebrates its first anniversary by opening the month to a free-for-all with all the books we used in the first year. I joined the second month, so I didn’t cook from Art of the Pie by Kate McDermott. I will be reserving that book and facing that challenge. To me, pie crust is hard to do.  But what the heck! They may end up messy, but taste is what really counts.

My other favorites from this past 10 months? Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard. Made in India by Meera Sodha. All the Ottolenghi books. I had three of Ottolenghi’s already on eBooks, and have downloaded the others. CSA farm shares tempt me to dig into those books for good vegetable recipes. And, if it wasn’t for Deep Run Roots, I never would have grown okra in my garden.

Or made these.

Or this.

The okra fries are so easy, and so good. Just olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Screaming hot oven or on the grill. Crunchy, salty, spicy. As for that awesome cauliflower cake from Ottolenghi, it will be repeated when we get cauliflower again from the CSA. It is absolutely the best show stopping addition to a pot luck party, and really not that hard to make.

What’s stopping you? Get cooking!

 

Falling Back

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My favorite weekend of the year is coming up. Back to normal time. That extra hour to sleep, so to speak. Getting the clock back to matching the rhythm of my system.

I am not a morning person so Daylight Saving Time in the spring drives me nuts.

Other than that, what has been/will be happening around here? Much cooking and reading, through this massive book. Thanks to Howard County Library for long renewals I might make it through the entire 1000 or so pages and learn more about the science of cooking.

 

My blog turned six yesterday. Still going, but not as often. I did start it to record local eating and to promote Howard County Conservancy events.

To honor those goals, today’s posts focuses on both those topics.

First, the conservancy events.

Wanna play in the meadows? Drink cider and run around playing a fun game? Sunday, there are games in the meadow. SCAG, to be exact. What is that? Here is the description for this event at Mt. Pleasant. November 5, 10-noon.

Then, on Thursday the 9th, a rare opportunity to see a first rate performance transporting you through history.

Forging Frontiers: Rachel Carson, Sacagawea and Louise A. Boyd – Women Who Made a Difference

Appropriate for families with children age 8 and up, here is a chance to see a riveting musical performance that teaches while you enjoy the show.

As for the other main reason I started writing, the local food scene, I am pledging to continue to reduce my carbon footprint by eating more meals primarily using locally sourced foods.

From my CSA, I am back to buying a flour and grain share.

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Every other week I get a bag of flour and some type of grain. This past week it was grits. Now that I have perfected that shrimp and grits recipe from Deep Run Roots, Vivian Howard’s homage to east Carolina cooking, I have used grits frequently for variations.

shrimp and grits

Simple to make. Three cups milk. One cup grits. Double boiler, or a pan above a pot of water. It takes time, but is forgiving when it comes to stirring. The gentle heat means no burnt places. Heck, you can even just buy the shrimp from Boarman’s and make the grits. Add some hot sauce.

I have been busy cooking these days but forgetting to write about it. Right now, I am cooking my way through The Food Lab. For the cookbook club. New techniques. Old favorites updated. Using the bounty from my fall CSA.

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Now you can see why I am focusing on soups, stocks and stews. Many, many ingredients here. Those are white carrots. There is celery. There is a large leek. Escarole, chard. Soup in the fall. My go-to meal.

Here’s to a few more blog posts in my future. I haven’t given up writing yet. Just slowing down.

Pilgrimage to Penzeys

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Ever heard of Penzeys. The spice place. Known to bakers, cooks, and those who love the freshest of ingredients. I went there today to find fresh whole spices for Indian cooking.

Because of this cookbook.

The October selection of our cookbook club. A cuisine that we both have loved ever since we first met. There are many excellent Indian restaurants in our area. Ananda comes to mind as a personal favorite. And, garam masala is a staple in my cooking.

But, this book is different. Home cooking, not restaurant meals. Simple, flavorful, and tempting me to create my own garam masala from scratch. And, to make simple dishes like the masala omelet.

I think I am set to continue my cooking, and to grind my own masala. Not pictured are the peppercorns. I do have cloves which are also called for in her recipe for garam masala.

Penzeys store is located in Rockville, even though their website says Penzeys Bethesda. Just south of MD 28 on Rockville Pike. Right now, if you go to their store and spend $50 (not hard to do with spices), you get two free jars.

Not going in my Indian cooking, but definitely a plus for some of my other recipes. Their prices are actually comparable to good sources of spice in specialty stores, but they are so fresh.

I also stocked up on a few staples, like these.

Yeah, I know, addicted to cooking. Just like my mom, who couldn’t pass up a yarn, knitting, craft store.

You can also buy online, if you don’t have a store close to you. What’s to keep you from having some awesome dinners?

 

 

Down Home Cooking

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Maryland. My home state. Not really north or south. Depending on where you live, we can be dismissed as being the opposite.

New Englanders call us Southern, for being south of the Mason Dixon Line. Those from the deep south call us Yankees.

For me, I think it means we can embrace the best of the cuisines from both sides of that imaginary line.

My family is German. We can do the whole scrapple, sauerbraten, head cheese, wurst thing, no problem. Still, we also love distinctly Southern tastes. Smithfield ham. Hominy (not far from grits). Biscuits. Fried chicken. Oysters. Shrimp. Blue crab.

Finding a cookbook that celebrates the South. In a good way. No, beyond that. In a celebratory way. That would be a great thing to add to my capabilities. I am truly enjoying cooking from Deep Run Roots. My kind of Southern cooking and more. Not drowning in butter, but using those fresh ingredients that grow so well in the temperate climate.

I am also discovering just how much my Amish (Pennsylvania Dutch) CSA has embraced and delivered the better heirlooms from the Southern food world. Things like collards, sweet potatoes, grits, cornmeal, okra, turnips.

I have made some interesting meals from this book. Mostly using what I get from my CSA. North meeting South.

Garlic confit to use in many meals. Sweet potato yogurt (OK, this stuff is awesome, I could put it on cardboard and eat it). Squash and onions that ended up as a hummus substitute.

I have also learned how to perfect my grits. Using a double boiler method.

A few other things, too. More on those in the future. If you want to try something new with your spring CSA, you might want to download Deep Run Roots. I can highly recommend it. And nobody is paying me to say that.

If you want to make something awesome, try the sweet potato yogurt.

Roast a few sweet potatoes. Scrape them out of their skins. Equal part of a Greek style yogurt. Honey, lemon juice and salt, to taste. Whirl it all together. Slather it on anything. Sprinkle a little cayenne on it to spice it up. Vivian’s recipe puts it under Collard Green dolmades, made with homemade sausage. I will probably make the dolmades some day, using Boarman’s sausage, but that picture above, with the Merguez sausage from Evermore Farm, that shows you how this base of taste can tame the spice and bring intense flavor to your dinner.