From Scratch, With Love

So Sorry

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I’ve been AWOL.  I apologize.  You know what though?  It’s so so so so so hard to write a food blog when it’s almost always dark out.  You know how much better pictures of food are in natural lighting?  It makes it difficult to lug out the camera when I make something fantastic, because I know the picture just won’t do it justice.

Food updates: I’ve been making a lot of soups and stir fries.  I really like bean-based soup, like lentil soup, black bean soup, and split pea soup.  They’re filling an comforting.  I also made a fantastic Latin-style chicken soup that I looked forward to eating for lunch all week.  Stir fries have become a big part of my life – I love seeing how many vegetables I can put in a single dish.  Lately my stir fry sauce has consisted in a soy sauce and peanut butter mixture, with some hot pepper sauce and garlic, brought to a quick boil.  It’s a really great combination.

I also read Mark Bittman’s Food Matters and The Food Matters Cookbook, which sort of puts into words the way I cook in general (and gives it reason): lots of vegetables and raw ingredients, not a lot of meat and pre-packaged goods.  He has a lot of great recipes… I recommend it.

Other updates: assuming my current back injury (going on 3 weeks) heals soon, I’m running the New York Half Marathon on March 20.  Fun!

Finally, a simple recipe for Lentil Soup.  Note the difference in winter photography.  Sorry!  This soup is filling and healthy, packed with fiber and vitamins.  It’s also delicious.

Lentil Soup (From Joy of Cooking)

Chop up an onion.  Slice two stalks of celery and two carrots in fairly uniform pieces.  In a large soup pot, heat one or two tablespoons of olive oil over low heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrots, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 to 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, dice tomatoes from a 14 oz can of whole tomatoes, and mince 3 cloves or garlic.  When the vegetables are soft, raise the heat to medium and add the tomatoes and garlic to the pot, with about a teaspoon of dried thyme.  After cooking for a minute or two, add 1 pound of dry lentils, rinsed.  Stir the ingredients together, then add 8 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and reduce the heat back to low.  Simmer gently for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.  Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper, to taste.  You can also add some greens at this point.  I like it with spinach or kale.  Cook for a couple more minutes, until the greens have wilted slightly.  Serve hot.  Take comfort.

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Written by poperatzii

January 30, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Posted in Soup

Cranberry Season

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Cranberry season comes and goes very quickly.  It’s sort of just the month of November.  At least, that’s how it seems to me.  I guess this is why there isn’t a lot you normally do with cranberries.

I went to the store.  They had fresh cranberries.  I couldn’t pass them up.  I picked up an orange too (almost orange season!!!!!).  I went home and made cranberry orange muffins.  Then I made cranberry orange bran muffins.  I froze them.  I’m excited about this development.

As always, use a light hand with muffins.  Mix the ingredients until just moistened.  Remember: Muffins are NOT just bald cupcakes.  That’s why they don’t have oodles of butter and sugar.  They are, however, delicious fresh from the oven, perhaps split down the middle and served with a little butter, melting slowly into the nooks and crannies that are a result of a light hand used in mixing them.

I’m making myself hungry.  I’m going to go defrost a muffin.  One moment.

Cranberry Orange Muffins (Makes 12 muffins)

Preheat the oven to 400.  Line a muffin tin with muffin liners, or lightly grease each tin.

In a large bowl, sift

2 cups flour

2/3 cups sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

Toss 1 cup fresh cranberries in the flour mixture.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, pour

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 egg yolks (put the egg whites in a medium bowl)

Stir thoroughly with a whisk or a fork.  Set aside.  Beat the 2 reserved egg whites until soft peaks form.

Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just moistened.  Fold in 1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter.  Fold in the beaten egg whites.  Spoon into prepared pan, filling each muffin cup to the top.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the muffins start to brown on top.  Serve immediately or cool completely and freeze.  Defrost in a 400 degree oven for 5 minutes or for 30 seconds in the microwave.

Cranberry Orange Bran Muffins (Makes 12 muffins)

Preheat the oven to 400.  Line a muffin tin with muffin liners, or lightly grease each tin.

In a large bowl, sift

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Toss 1 cup fresh cranberries, 1/3 cup dried cranberries, and 1/4 cup flax seeds, wheat bran, or wheat germ in the flour mixture.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, pour

1/2 cup buttermilk

3/4 cup applesauce

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 egg yolks (put the egg whites in a medium bowl)

Stir thoroughly with a whisk or a fork.  Set aside.  Beat the 2 reserved egg whites until soft peaks form.

Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just moistened.  Fold in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter.  Fold in the beaten egg whites.  Spoon into prepared pan, filling each muffin cup to the top.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the muffins start to brown on top.  Serve immediately or cool completely and freeze.  Defrost in a 400 degree oven for 5 minutes or for 30 seconds in the microwave.

Written by poperatzii

November 14, 2010 at 9:29 am

Pizza: Some Updates

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I’ve been making pizza for a few years now, basically since I acquired a kitchen of my own, senior year of college.  I started out using the method my dad used all throughout my childhood, and it has evolved since then.  Lately, largely due to reading articles on the Cook’s Illustrated website (you have to subscribe to be able to read them fully, but it’s well worth it), I’ve deviated from my original method.  A couple things remain, however.  1) Always make the dough by hand.  This rule is part snobbishness and part wanting to get a feel for when the dough is the right consistency. 2) Use some whole wheat flour.  Well, are you surprised? I love me some whole wheat.  3) Use lots of garlic.

Here are the tips I want to pass on.

1) Unlike commercial pizzas, which are baked in 800 degree ovens, homemade pizza dough does not benefit from high-gluten bread flour or long kneading times.  As a result, I’ve switched to using part pastry flour or cake flour, and kneading it just until it forms a smooth ball.

2) In order to make a thick sauce that is not overly watery, you can blend canned tomatoes in a blender and let it drain in a fine mesh sieve for about a half hour until a lot of the water is released.  I like to mix in some canned tomato sauce and minced garlic as well.  A little salt and sugar and herbs improves the sauce.

3) Use a pizza stone.  No need for a pizza peel – build the pizza on parchment paper on a rimless baking sheet and use the baking sheet to slide the pizza onto the hot stone in the oven.

4) Bake the pizza for about 5 minutes at 500 degrees with just crust, sauce, and toppings, then add the cheese and bake for another 5 minutes.  This method keeps the cheese from burning.

5) Fresh mozzarella is awesome.  As is adding a parmesan-like cheese to the pizza.

6) Slice toppings very thin so that they cook evenly.  Green peppers, especially.

Those are my current tips for homemade pizza.  I’m sure I’ll discover more soon enough.

Written by poperatzii

October 27, 2010 at 8:49 pm

How do you like dem Apple Muffins?

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I’ve been a little lazy about updating.  Here’s my excuse: the sun has been going down so early it’s been really hard to take good pictures of my delicious dinners.  I’ll try harder, I promise.

This morning I ran a lot.  Then I biked home and had a really delicious omelet with onions and spinach (I recommend it) and a lot of other food.  Then I wanted to feel productive so I made a batch of granola bars (I’m trying to make them taste like honey roasted peanuts, which are my current snack food obsession) and some apple bran muffins with the apples I picked last weekend.  I’ve made them before.  The recipe is loosely based on the Joy of Cooking base recipe that I’ve been using for years, but honestly I kind of just did it by feel.  I’m happy to share it.  I like to make these muffins and let them cool completely, then freeze them.  I put them in my lunch bag every morning, then microwave them for 20 seconds when it’s time for a mid morning snack.  Voila – warm and fresh-tasting muffin.

Here are some tricks I used for this muffin.  As always for muffins, I stirred the batter until just moistened.  Despite the muffins you get in stores, they are not just bald cupcakes – the crumb is not as fine and the batter should not be smooth.  Mix muffins by hand, not using a mixer.  Also, as usual, I separated the egg whites from the yolks and beat the egg whites until soft peaks formed.  This helps make the muffins moist and fluffy.  I also used whole wheat pastry flour, instead of regular whole wheat flour so that they wouldn’t be too dense.  Lastly, since the apples provide both sweetness and moisture, I only used 1/2 cup of brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of oil.  Also, I used buttermilk instead of regular milk (again, for moistness).

By the way, apple pie was my inspiration for this muffin.  Also, I LOVE apple season.

Apple Bran Muffins (Makes 12 muffins)

Preheat oven to 400.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners, or grease each cup.

In a small bowl, peel and grate 3 medium apples. Stir in 1/2 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 egg yolks (put the whites in a medium bowl), 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Set aside.

Roughly chop about 1 oz of dried fruit (I used apricots).  Toast 1 oz nuts (I used walnuts).

In a large bowl, sift 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, 2 tablespoons wheat bran (optional), 2 tablespoons wheat germ (optional), 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon  cinnamon.

Beat the reserved egg whites until soft peaks form.

Add the apple mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just blended.  Gently fold in the egg whites.  Gently fold in the dried fruit and nuts.  Spoon into prepared muffin tin, filling each cup all the way, and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins start to brown.

Storage: if you wish to keep these muffins as snacks, let cool completely, then freeze in a ziplock bag.  Defrost for 5 minutes in a 400 degree oven or 20 seconds in the microwave, or let it defrost at room temperature for a couple hours.

This is my cat being cute:

Written by poperatzii

October 16, 2010 at 2:12 pm

A Little Something from my Heritage

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So, you probably don’t know that I’m Latin.  You really can’t tell from looking at me or talking to me and it’s not really something that’s PC to ask.  “Hi, what are you?” is probably one of the most awkward questions ever.  Anyway, my mother immigrated to the US from Guatemala in 1982.  My father is American, but has traveled to Guatemala and has learned and adapted many Guatemalan dishes to his liking.  As a result, growing up, I had a lot of typical or semi-typical Guatemalan or Latin-inspired food.  When I go to Guatemala, which I haven’t done in a long time, I tend to go for the simpler dishes because I’m very picky.  I think on my next visit I will be more adventurous.  Basically when I have gone, I’ve eaten beans, rice, and tortillas.  When I was growing up I also ate lots of beans, rice, and tortillas.  The beans were almost always black beans, the rice was almost always white rice, and the tortillas were always (ALWAYS) corn tortillas.  Depending on the meal they were either store-bought or homemade.  I actually don’t think flour tortillas are part of most cuisines in Latin America, except perhaps in Northern Mexico.  Since a lot of food blogs give most of their attention to flour tortillas, I thought I’d give a little corn tortilla love today.

Corn tortillas are not made with cornmeal.  In order to make corn tortillas, you must use masa harina, which is a corn flour that has been treated in a special way with limewater.  You could make it yourself… if you work in a masa harina factory.  The brand we used growing up is called Maseca, and I believe it is the most commercially available brand, but the one I found in my Whole Foods (my local supermarket didn’t stock it at all) is called “Masa Brosa.”  Basically to make the dough for tortillas, you just mix the masa harina with warm water.  It is very simple, not because it’s a mix but because tortillas are a very simple food.  The tricky part is not making the dough too dry or too wet.  I’ve found the best way to do this is to add the warm water slowly using a measuring up in one hand, and mix the dough with the other hand until the consistency seems right (that’s right, by hand, not with a spoon).

One you’ve got the tortillas down, a whole world opens up.  You can make pupusas, which are filled tortillas that originate from El Salvador.  You can make tamales, which are little packets of meat filling wrapped in corn dough and corn husks and baked.  The possibilities are endless.  I highly recommend it.  In addition, you have bragging rights because it really is authentic and it seems no one in the country does it anymore.  Corn tortillas are best made fresh though, so don’t try to just keep a bunch in the fridge.

Real Corn Tortillas (Makes 8-12 tortillas)

Heat a griddle or pan over medium heat.

Pour 2 cups of masa harina in a bowl.  Slowly add 1 1/4 cups warm water, using your free hand to gently stir the dough so that it absorbs the water.  You might need more or less water. When the dough starts to hold together, stop adding water.  It should not be crumbly, but should also not be too sticky.

Divide the dough into 8-12 even balls and cover with a damp paper towel until ready to use.

I made a half recipe

To roll out the tortillas, you can either use your hands (labor-intensive), a rolling pin, or a tortillas press, which you can find in Latin markets.  It looks like this:

If using a rolling pin or a tortilla press, I recommend putting some plastic wrap on your work surface and on top of the dough to keep it from sticking.

When you’re ready to make the tortillas, lightly brush your hot griddle with canola oil, form the tortillas one at a time, and put them on the griddle.  After a minute or two, or when the edges of the tortillas begin to look dry, flip them.  Wrap the warm tortillas in a kitchen towel to keep warm until it’s time to serve.

I served these tortillas with leftover roast pork and freshly made black beans (gently boiled for  hours with an onion, garlic, and the bone from the roast pork, salted and peppered in the last half hour).  They are also great with eggs in the morning, perhaps with a little Hot Sauce.  A little mexican or mozzarella cheese wouldn’t hurt either.

Written by poperatzii

September 25, 2010 at 1:03 pm

The Winning Pumpkin Cookie

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Here it is, the moment you’ve all been waiting for.  After a week and 6 or 7 batches of pumpkin cookies or varying quality, I’ve finally found a method that makes me happy.  The result is a wonderfully soft, pumpkin-y cookie that isn’t too sweet and is perfectly spiced.  Additionally, the dough lends itself both to the sugar-crusted drop cookie method AND to the rolled out and cut with a cookie cutter method.  Reminiscent of a ginger cookie, don’t feel guilty about eating 1 or 2 (or 7) of these because they are also very low in fat and sugar, thanks to the naturally moist nature of pumpkin.

By cooking the pumpkin in the butter, you benefit both from the caramelization of the butter and the intensification of the pumpkin flavor due to evaporation of water.  I also recommend sauteing some fresh ginger to bring out the ginger flavor, but adding 1/2 teaspoon dried ginger in with the dry ingredients works in a pinch.  I found that adding a little more salt to the recipe counteracts the bitter flavor or the pumpkin, and that using whiskey instead of vanilla complements the pumpkin and spice nicely.  Finally, I opted to use only white sugar because brown sugar overpowered the pumpkin too much.  I added a little maple syrup as well.  I hope you like them as much as I do!

Andrea’s Pumpkin Spice Cookies (Makes about 60 cookies)

In a small saucepan, melt 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of butter over high heat.  Add 1 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger (see note above) and saute for about a minute, until fragrant.  Add 1 cup of canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix) and 2 tablespoons of whiskey (I used Jack Daniels).  Cook the pumpkin until the butter is absorbed and the puree is less watery.  In the end, you should have about 1 cup of pumpkin mixture.  Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, sift or whisk together:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

In a large bowl, stir 3/4 cup of white sugar into the pumpkin mixture.  Add 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup.  Add 1 egg and stir until just combined.  Gradually stir in the flour mixture, in about three additions, stirring until just combined each time.  Wrap the dough with a sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Place a sheet of parchment paper on two baking sheets.

You can make these cookies two ways.

Sugar-coated drop cookies

Pour 1/4 cup of sugar into a small bowl.

A drop a teaspoon’s worth of dough into the bowl of sugar, coating completely.  Using your hands, roll the dough into a ball and place on the baking sheet, then press the ball with your finger to flatten it slightly.  Repeat for the rest of the dough, leaving about an inch between balls of dough.  They will spread, but not too much, so you can fit a lot of cookies on one sheet.  I fit 30 cookies on mine.  Bake for 12-14 minutes, turning the cookie sheet halfway through baking time.  Let cool.  These cookies are actually best the day after they are baked.

Rolled cookies

These cookies are great for parties, or for decorating.

Sprinkle some flour on your work surface.  Take the cookie dough out of the fridge and lightly dust with flour.  Using a rolling pin, roll the dough until it is evenly about 1/8 inch thick, being careful not to let it stick to the work surface.  Using your favorite cookie cutters, cut cookies and place them on baking sheet, leaving about 1/2 inch between cookies (they will not spread too much).  Bake for about 10 minutes, less if you like them doughy.  Let cool completely before decorating, if desired.

Written by poperatzii

September 18, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I’m doing some experimenting

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A quick update: I’m on the search for a perfect pumpkin cookie.  I’m making the recipe myself.  I am also trying to limit the fat and sugar, since I feel pumpkin lends itself to such a recipe, though in my internet searches I haven’t found any such recipe, which is why I’m writing it myself.  So far I’ve tried a chocolate chip cookie base, which failed miserably:

These cookies turned out tasting great, but having a oddly dense texture which was unappealing.  They kind of look like raw cookie dough, don’t they?

Next, I tried making them using a gingersnap-type recipe.

These were a great improvement in texture, but the flavor left a little to be desired.  I’m trying to develop a recipe that really brings out the pumpkin flavor, and these tasted too much of spice.  I know I’m headed in the right direction though because I brought all the cookies to running club this morning and people raved about them.

The fun thing about developing a recipe is that I get to play chemist.  With the latest batch of cookies I played with using melted vs softened butter, and using granulated sugar vs a brown sugar/granulated sugar mix.  I had a lot of fun, but in the end there wasn’t a big difference between the cookies, so I think I have to take some bigger risks.  Next I am going to go easier on the spices and try adding some rum to the mix instead of using vanilla.  Don’t worry, once the recipe is perfect, I will post it.  Hopefully right in time for the height of pumpkin season.

Written by poperatzii

September 11, 2010 at 12:10 pm