Thursday, April 30, 2015


I got tired of pulling out my challah loaf every week, letting it defrost halfway, and tearing some off at the meal, only to put the whole thing back in the freezer until the following week.  It just takes me about six weeks to go through one.  When mini challahs were discontinued at work, a light bulb clicked.  It sounded something like "duh".

I'm not sure exactly what I did different in this batch, but it not only made exactly the 12 rolls I was looking for, but the quality was better than usual.  For just forgetting how big a batch it was and skipping an egg?  Good thing I remembered all the amounts and can pass it on.

3/4 C warm water
1-1/2 Tb oil
1 Tb sugar
2 tsp yeast
up to 3 C flour
2 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
oil for bowl

1.  Stir together water, oil, sugar, and yeast.  Let sit until yeast activates and it starts to get foamy, about 5 minutes.

2.  In stand mixer with the paddle, place 1 C flour.  On low, add liquid mixture until combined.  Increase speed to medium and beat until it looks like a cake batter, about 2 minutes.

3.  Separate one of the eggs and put the yolk in the fridge.  It won't be needed for a couple of hours.  Add the egg white and the other egg to the batter along with the salt.  Beat until incorporated.  Add another cup of flour and beat into a thick, stringy batter, about 2 more minutes.

4.  Spread a kneading surface with a generous 1/2 C flour.  Pour dough out onto board and knead until smooth and elastic.  If possible, don't add any more flour.  I didn't even use up everything on the board, which is unusual for an egg dough.  They tend to absorb everything, and why I decided to post this.  My dough ball was soft and silky, with a slightly floury surface, and held its shape reluctantly.

5.  Place a few drops of oil in a bowl.  Place dough in bowl and turn to coat all sides.  Proof in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.  Punch down and let rest 10 minutes before shaping.

6.  Measure out 12 pieces of dough (mine were 2 oz and it came out almost perfect).  Roll into ropes.  Hold one end still and roll the other away from you to make a twist that starts to kink up.  When you lift both ends and hold them together, the dough wraps around itself.  Tuck the ends under and place the rolls on two parchment-lined sheet pans.  Proof again until doubled, about 45 minutes.

7.  While oven is preheating to 375º, get out the egg yolk.  Beat it with a teaspoon of water to make an egg wash.  Brush the rolls.  Any spots you miss will not get shiny and dark.  Bake for about 20 minutes, five more if you like darker rolls.  Remove to cooling rack so the moisture underneath doesn't make them soggy.
Proofed, but pre egg wash

Makes 1 dozen

Difficulty rating :-0

Monday, April 27, 2015

Greek Pasta Primavera

I had a bunch of artichokes ready to bloom, the last largish ones of the year, and wanted to do something special with them.  First, I had to find out if it was a good idea to roast them before making a disaster out of dinner.  Not only is roasted artichoke a real thing, it's apparently a delicious, mediterranean-style appetizer.  Well, that's not what I'm using it for today, but nice to know.
I love how the "baby artichoke" recipe used buds that I consider fairly large for Artie.  I'm on the third round and they're maybe the size of a tennis ball.  There are many itty-bitty buds tucked in among the leaves.  I hope I get something edible off them, but I won't be greedy about it.  Artie has already exceeded my expectations for the year, and for his lifespan.

While pasta primavera is usually a vegetarian or vegan dish, I threw in half a pound of thinly sliced calamari.  The dish still has that Mediterranean feel.  Scallops or shrimp would work just as well, so I'm calling it the generic "shellfish" in the recipe.

Olive oil as needed
*1 red onion, sliced
1 medium eggplant, cut batonnet
half a lemon or 2 Tb lemon juice
*2 large or 4 small artichokes
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper
6 oz dry pasta (I used linguine)
8 oz jar pitted kalamatas
*1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 lb shellfish (optional)
4 oz feta crumbles

1.  Preheat oven to 375º.  Either use your knife skills to batonnet the eggplant or get out your awesome toy of a V-slicer to do it for you.  While you're at it, send the onion through the regular slicing blade too.  Can't help you with the artichokes.
2.  Fill a small bowl with water and the juice of half a lemon.  Cut off the base of an artichoke and the top 1/3 of it.  Then start rotating it in your hand, peeling off ripping off the petals as you go.  There's a lovely gif demonstration that makes it look so much easier than it really is.  Come on, it's Bon Appetit.  What were you expecting?  Dip the artichokes in the lemon water frequently to reduce their oxidation.  Once you're down to the soft petals, cut the flower in half and use a melon baller to scoop out the furry choke and any purple petals.

3.  Rub the artichokes all over with olive oil and place, cut-side down, on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Toss the eggplant and onion in more olive oil and spread out on the sheet.  Sprinkle with salt and the minced garlic and roast until everything is soft, about 40 minutes.

4.  About halfway through the cooking time, start boiling the pasta water.  You can also multitask at this point by halving the tomatoes and doing any necessary prep to the shellfish.  Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  When it's time to drain, keep the water.  The pasta can hang out in a colander for a few minutes.

5.  Return 2-3 C of pasta water to the pot.  Add shellfish and let it cook in the residual heat.  Even without any burner, bite-sized pieces will cook in about 2 minutes.  Basically, the amount of time it takes you to pull everything out of the now-beeping oven and grab the olives and feta.

6.  Drain off and reserve water again.  To the pot, add pasta, the shellfish, and the roasted veggies.  Stir to mix.  Add olives, brine and all, and tomatoes.  If the pasta looks dry even with the olive brine, add a bit of pasta water and a tablespoon of olive oil.  Toss everything together again and plate.  Top with feta.  Dust with fresh pepper if desired.

Difficulty rating  :)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Peach-Topped Matzoh Brei

I found a can of peaches in the pantry that I had planned to have with cottage cheese during Passover (packed in water, not corn syrup).  After considering peach cobbler, turnovers, and other baked goods, I decided to use them for a KLP dish, after all (ignore the bacon, and the part where I used the rendered bacon fat to grease the pan).

I was playing that game you do when you've worked too many days in a row, "How long can I go without grocery shopping?"  Rooting through the freezer, tomato plants, and pantry, the only thing I have bought since Seder was a quart of milk and a partial restocking of my supply of grains.  There may have been a couple of bananas in there, and probably a carton of orange juice.  Basically, less than $20 of groceries in two weeks.  Yep, we're down to canned peaches on matzoh.  I'm going grocery shopping in a couple of hours, once the markets open.  My boss wants his new 5-day baker (me, apparently) to come in at 2am every day instead of 3.  It wouldn't seem like an hour makes that much difference that early in the morning, but it does on your days off when you're still getting up before 3.  My last load of laundry is already beeping at me to be folded at 5am and I'm doing this post now because I'm bored waiting for the paper to get here.

*3 pieces matzoh
3 eggs
dash salt
*1 15 oz can sliced peaches in water, drained
2 Tb brown sugar
dash each nutmeg and cinnamon

1.  Break up matzoh into thumbnail-sized pieces and place in a bowl.  Pour about 1/2 C very hot water over them and let it absorb while you beat the eggs.

2.  Beat eggs in another bowl until fluffy.  Add about 1/4 C water and a dash of salt and beat again to make the brei base.

3.  Drain matzoh pieces and place in egg mix to soak.  Preheat a 10" skillet over medium and melt 1 Tb butter.  Swirl to coat.

4.  Add matzoh mix to skillet and cook until eggs are done, stirring often for even cooking.  It's going to look like some botched, half-burnt scrambled eggs.  This is normal.  Remove to serving dish while you make the peach topping, because matzoh brei is crazy hot off the burner and needs to sit a couple of minutes anyway so you don't burn your mouth.

5.  Add another tablespoon of margarine to the pan and dump the drained peaches on top of it.  As they start to warm, add the brown sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon.  Stir to coat evenly.  As soon as the juices reach a low boil, the topping is ready.  Spoon over eggs and serve.

Makes 3 large or 4 small servings

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Garden of Guilt

The state of California is in an extreme drought.  We have been ordered to cut our water consumption as much as possible and water deliveries to distributors are being cut by 15%.  But I really wanted to plant a few vegetables in the pond after ripping out the spinach that had run its course.  And Gus died.  And Artie, who has had a very productive year, is almost done producing buds.

Then I opened my water bill.  My consumption as opposed to last year is 50%.  Yes, Roommate Smurf was still here last April, but I have both a front and back yard to water.  With other water-saving habits I have adopted, the usage should have dropped about a third, not by half.  I grabbed a hat and went down to the garden center.

I picked up a cucumber and a six-pack of snow peas and started working some blood meal into the soil.  The dirt was dry the entire six inches down I excavated, but Bradley is thriving and producing several large tomatoes.  This drought seems to have cured my tendency to over-water.

After planting, I built a twine support for the peas out of some old molding.  Once the vines have latched on, I can slide up the twine on the sticks as they grow.

For this one time, I watered the pond with the hose.  The baby plants got a deep soaking, but you can see in the photo that the unplanted areas are still dry.  I've taken to showering with the mop bucket as a companion.  I only collect a gallon or so per shower, but that's better than sending it down the drain.  It's almost enough to water all of my vegetables.

Oh, and I have to share that I've eaten two whole boysenberries.  They taste almost like raspberries, which I don't particularly care for, but with a blackberry undertone.  The plant is taking off, and maybe I'll have a decent harvest next year.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Cream of Celery Soup

I kind of wish celery was sold by the rib.  A bunch is usually too much, and the pre-cut sticks are expensive.  Still, I hate to waste any food and needed to come up with a use for it.  I also had a little more milk than intended, so here we go.

This recipe I found online reminded me of the Bible's chilled cucumber soup.  The ingredients and method are similar, except for the chilling part.  My broth bag was completely full after making Seder, so I decided to break out the bones from my deboned turkey and make stock instead of just vegetable broth.  I still have several portions of turkey in the freezer.  Think I'll have those next week.

Anyway, back to the soup.  A low-fat chicken or vegetable broth will make this recipe much lighter than what I ended up with, but it was nice to have the richness with an otherwise vegetarian meal.

1/4 C butter
*2 C finely diced celery
*1 C finely diced onion
*1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 C flour
2 C low-salt stock (veggie or chicken)
*1-1/2 C milk
Salt and white pepper to taste

1.  Melt butter in a large saucepan or deep 12" skillet.  I know it sounds like a lot of butter, but it is going to be the base of your thickening roux, in addition to being a sauté fat.

2.  Add celery, onion, and garlic and cook on medium until everything is soft and translucent, at least 5 minutes.  Stir frequently to prevent anything from browning.

3.  Add flour and work into the mix until everything is coated evenly and all of the butter has been absorbed.  It's going to look a little pasty.  Add liquids half a cup at a time, allowing each addition to heat and thicken.  I recommend starting with whichever liquid contains more fat.  2% milk will have more fat than a veggie or skimmed chicken stock.  Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes, until celery is thoroughly cooked.  Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.  Celery is salty on its own, so go easy.
4.  For a creamier soup, purée with either a stick blender or in batches in the blender.  Serve hot or cold, or use in recipes.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Matzoh Mania

I had maybe three pieces of matzoh during Passover, including Seder.  I'm just not thrilled with the stuff.  Instead, I made quinoa, potatoes, carrots, or decided to forego starch entirely.

So now that Passover is finished, I'm starting to make my way through the four remaining boxes, 14 pieces per box.  (I managed to give away one box from the 5-pack.)  I'm actually in the mood for it now.  I think it goes back to the first Question: On all other nights we eat either leavened or unleavened bread.  Why, on this night, do we eat only unleavened bread?  It's about choice.  If I have a bagel or other breads during the day, one piece of matzoh isn't a big deal.

Besides, a lot of the things I like to put on matzoh (or any cracker) are not KLP.  PB&J is fantastic on it.  Hummus works great.  Even the tuna salad I make with my vegan mayo (I happen to prefer the taste & texture to egg-based mayo) isn't KLP because the condiment is soy-based.  I did make the chocolate-banana matzo brei a few times, and plan to make it more, but that's just because I like it.
This is not necessarily an endorsement of Yehuda Matzoh.
It's just what was on sale this year.

I'll probably get over this in a few days, when I get tired of having crackers and soup with dip for dinner.  After a week of heavy meals, including five days of leftover lamb, I was ready for something lighter.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Seder 2015

I wasn't sure I was going to host Passover this year until I saw a half-priced boneless lamb roast in the market three weeks ago.  I dropped it in the freezer and started inviting people.

I'm glad I didn't invite too many, because others seemed to gravitate.  It was only a 3 pound piece of meat.  I was also glad that folks felt they had to bring something, which would mean the leg of lamb and the sides I had planned would stretch a bit farther.  Really, once you add in the egg and gefilte, there's plenty of protein in a Seder even if the main course is vegetarian.

The thing about festive dinners being hard on the host is only if the person is not prepared or makes it difficult on themselves.  I knew I would be working Friday morning, so I did everything but cook the lamb and the spinach on Thursday.  Both of those were fully prepped and ready for the heat.  Oh, and I didn't peel the eggs because I didn't want them to get dry.  The biggest thing I didn't do ahead was set the table, because the cats don't respect the boundaries I try to set and I can't close off the dining room.

For pre-Passover cleaning, I usually just clean everything very well, including the oven.  This year, I completely took apart the stove, discovering new removable parts.  The toaster proved impossible to make KLP, but it looks better than it has in years.  For the oven, I finally got up the courage to use the self-cleaning mode.  It is fantastic!  I'm sure my electric bill will reflect the three hours of intense heat, but for once a year it is completely worth it and saves a lot of water.  All I had to do afterwards was wipe the inside with a sponge, and decades of buildup that had been reduced to ash were wiped away.

Here's a menu with a few links:

Charoset for the Seder
Roast leg of lamb with garlic and rosemary
Carrots and Oranges with Pumpkin Seeds (I used sage because you aren't supposed to use cumin for Passover)
Steamed Garlic Spinach
Balsamic Vinaigrette (as an all-purpose dressing and sauce)
Date Ice Cream (yes, it's dairy.  We waited a while for dessert.)

As far as my continuing quest to make just the right amount, I did very well.  The only reason we didn't run out of carrots was because one person cancelled at the last moment.  Everything else had one or two servings left over, saving me from cooking for a bit.  I didn't finish washing and putting away the dishes until the next evening, and felt like I'd taken a punishing exercise class.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Date Ice Cream

Last week, I was very proud of myself for choosing to have a few dates for dessert instead of a bowl of ice cream.  That quickly turned into "I bet I can make date ice cream".  I checked out a bunch of recipes online and chose to base mine on this one from Delicious Shots.  The unique factor was creating a date syrup of sorts so the pieces wouldn't freeze in the ice cream into inedible lumps.

My version is less sweet and intense than the other site's because I used more ice cream base than she did but only used the half pound of dates I had left from my trip to Hadley's and no more sugar.  I'm making this to have for dessert at Seder, and one of the guests always brings a heavy honey cake.  This ice cream is something lighter to have on the side.
For the heck of it, and to make the ice cream less likely to form a solid block, I added a tablespoon of rum (KLP) to the sugar syrup.  It isn't in the recipe, and totally up to you if you want to use any alcohol, or even more than I did.  Bear in mind, more than 2 tablespoons in a batch this size will keep it at soft-serve consistency and give it a shelf life of one week, even in the freezer.

2 C heavy cream
2 C milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 C water
1/2 C sugar
*8 oz pitted dates

1.  Set aside any dates you want to use as garnish.  Chop the rest coarsely.  If you use pre-chopped dates, pay attention to whether they're coated in sugar or starch, as you may want to adjust the amount of sugar in the recipe.  Chopping allows the dates to absorb the syrup you're about to make, and so you can check for pits.

2.  Stir together water and sugar in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil and cook until sugar is completely dissolved, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in dates (and alcohol).  Allow to soak while you prep the custard.  I ran errands and they soaked for several hours.

3.  In another saucepan, combine milk and cream.  Slowly bring to a low boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.  Beat the egg yolks lightly and add half a cup of the cream to them to temper the eggs.  Return to pot and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens to coat a metal spoon.  Do not boil, or the eggs will curdle.  Remove from heat.

4.  By now, the dates should be rehydrated in the simple syrup and not too hot.  Purée with a hand blender or in a food processor until only slightly chunky.  Stir into custard until smooth.  Place a piece of plastic wrap touching the surface of the custard and refrigerate until cooled, about 2 hours.

5.  Once cooled, process in ice cream maker to soft-serve consistency.  Pour into serving container and freeze for 4 hours before serving.  You may have to let it sit at room temperature a few minutes to soften before scooping.  Garnish with reserved dates.

Makes about 1-1/2 quarts (6 cups)

Difficulty rating :-0