Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Home Made Pita Bread! Opa!

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Home made pita!

I looked at the calendar and saw that January was slipping away, quickly, so I decided I needed to get cooking.
It was 37 degrees that morning..brrrrr!

You see I did my 5K this month, I blogged a cookbook recipe and I needed to get out and find a new blog and a recipe.  Of course Pinterest is the place to begin for me.  There, on my board called Yum! are numerous recipes I have been wanting to try.  I saw these amazing pita breads and knew what I was making.  I had chicken, dill, Greek yogurt and a cucumber, so Greek chicken on home made pitas with homemade tzaziki was in order.

The recipe has its origins at a blog called Delicious Shots. The tagline is that Food Is Beautiful.  And here, it most definitely is.  The pita breads have 4 ingredients.  Bread flour, salt, water and yeast.  How easy is that? I hope you will check out her blog and the recipe. As you well know, I never just follow a recipe, but after searching other pita bread recipes, I found most contained sugar and oil, albeit small amounts.  Her recipe is is all measured in grams, so a scale is a necessity.

I followed her recipe to the T, but found myself with one pita a little shy of 75g.  Which is fine.  They mixed and rolled out effortlessly.  Really.  They were so easy.  While they rested for 40 minutes, I made the rest of dinner.

For the chicken, I dropped frozen, boneless thighs into a LeCreuset, shook a whole lot of Cavendar's Greek Seasoning and tossed in a sliced onion.  I love this method for cooking chicken.  It has to start frozen, and somehow, magically, it shreds beautifully when done.  It also frees me up to take care of other business.  If I had fresh chicken on hand I would have grilled it for sure, but I am cleaning out the fridge and freezer, so decided the chicken had to go!  It was done in about 40 minutes at 375F.

I always have plain Greek yogurt on hand, and tucked way back in the fridge (which sparkles right now) was an almost empty container of sour cream.  So I combined them.  I drained the Greek yogurt for about an hour first, then mixed it with the sour cream and a Tablespoon of dehydrated dill.

draining the Greek yogurt

I love dehydrated herbs for great flavor and long shelf life!

I love this little avocado spoon...
I grated a large clove of garlic in with my Microplane and added about a half teaspoon of salt.  I peeled and sliced open the cucumber that was hiding out in the produce drawer, and knew by the yellowish color it was going to be bitter.  I mean it's January, where could the poor thing have traveled from?  So I seeded it with my favorite olive wood avocado spoon and cubed it and sprinkled it with salt and set it in a colander to drain.  My hope was that by drawing out the excess water the bitterness would go away too. It didn't.  Mr. Preppy is not a cucumber fan to begin with, so I scooped a little virginal tzaziki and added cucumbers for me and left the rest for him sans bitter cucumbers.  It's delicious anyway!

The last step was cooking the pita bread.  I started with an iron skillet and wiped it with a film of olive oil and heated it up.  The first pita was a little dense, so I knew it needed to be hotter.

they will gently bubble after dropping in the hot pan

flip when lightly browned

then they poof up magically!

So, I cranked the heat and they started puffing beautifully.  It did get a little overheated and a few came out a little darker than I would like, but they taste delicious!  I think I should have really rolled them a little thinner before their 40 minute proofing, because some of them were a little thick.  But when they poofed, they were perfect! You can only cook them one at a time, but I kept them warm, as told in a napkin.

don't forget the napkin!  these are messy!

To eat, basically a pita, a schmear of tzaziki, some chicken, chopped tomatoes and lots of napkins.  I am in heaven.  This was hands down, the best dinner I have had in weeks!  Mr Preppy agreed, he could not stop raving!  The tzaziki was so bright, the meat was perfectly cooked, the onions weren't overpowering and the pita bread was delicious!  So, what are you waiting for?  Get to those resolutions, and get in there and cook! Opa!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Chocolate Chip Cookie Debates

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For a little chocolate chip introduced in 1939, there sure is a lot of activity around it, even after all these years.  And why not?  They are the icon of American cookies.  Over the years, everyone has made their own variation on the recipe and they all proclaim to be the best.  Really.  And truly, is there anything quite like that original recipe and those original chips in the iconic yellow bag?  I'll be the first to admit that I love the Ghiradelli Bittersweet Chips.  They are a little bigger and melt so smooth. And years of experimenting have told me that the milk chips and any addition of butterscotch is a bad idea.  I made a browned butter version for Secret Recipe Club once, as a giant cookie, the picture is below.  It was delicious, but not the "best".  I am always adding whole wheat flour and oatmeal to up the nutrition factor, but they aren't really a Tollhouse.

Back in the 80's, I worked for Procter & Gamble, and sold Crisco.  At one time it was the #1 selling item in the American grocery store.  Hard to believe right?  Especially at a time when obesity was not an epidemic.  I think it represents a time when the American housewife cooked dinner for her family every night.  No super-size fries, no liters of soda, no convenience size everything.  But, I digress.  The Crisco version of chocolate chip cookie produces a very soft and fluffy cookie.  Tasteless, however.  Nothing tastes like real butter.

So over the holiday break, Nic made chocolate chip cookies.  They were so fluffy, and didn't taste like a traditional Tollhouse.  He followed the recipe, and everyone wondered how this happened.  Where were those flat and crispy/chewy cookies?  I have decided that he must have overbeat the dough after adding the eggs.  An easy mistake when you use a stand mixer.  So of course I had to remake them and show him how it's done!

I decided to make Spago's recipe for Chocolate Chunk Cookies.  It makes more, has a little higher ratio of brown sugar, more butter, but the chip amount is the same.  Just 12 oz.  That wouldn't work at all.  I just happened to have a small amount of unsweetened chips from Guittard.  Now before you go "eww", let it be known, these chips are amazing.  They have no sugar, but are edible just the way they are.  They taste like CHOCOLATE!  And then I decided to swap out the brown sugar for muscovado sugar at the suggestion of a customer.  That I probably won't do again, it just doesn't taste like brown sugar.  But let me tell you, these cookies were fantastic!  I believe it was the higher ratio of butter to flour, more brown sugar than white, and definitely the addition of the unsweetened chips.  Here's the recipe as I made them:

Chocolate Chip Cookies 
adapted from Spago Chocolate

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
1 cup Muscovado sugar (use light brown sugar)
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
12 ounces Giradelli Chips (semisweet or bittersweet)
6 ounces Guittard unsweetened chips

Cream butter and sugars until fluffy.  Add vanilla and incorporate well.  Add eggs and mix until blended.  Add flour, soda and salt and mix until just combined.  Fold in chips.

Bake at 350 on parchment paper for about 9 minutes.  Move trays around halfway through baking to ensure they are evenly baked.  Cool on rack.  YUM!  So, what are you waiting for?  Get in there and bake!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Pasta E Fagioli

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Here we are.  January.  I have stripped the house of Christmas, except the nativity, which will get packed up today.  I can't put it back in the attic until Epiphany, it just doesn't seem right.  It also reminds me of Slava, which is the Serbian feast day and we celebrated this weekend as well.  Nothing too exciting, roast chicken and pita.  Serbian Pita, not pita bread! Delicious.  But so is soup when the temp dips into the 20's.

One of my favorite cook books of all time is Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax.  After I started stalking his work, I was saddened to learn that he passed away a very young man.  So then my mission was to get all of his cookbooks.  Get In There And Cook is one of those books.  Published in 1997, it is a great book with little cooking lessons in each recipe, and was his last book.  He passed in 1995, and his dear friend finished the project for him.

The Pasta E Fagioli recipe is pretty straightforward and simple, but I went ahead and changed all those little things I do.  Like Pancetta for the Prosciutto, fire roasted tomatoes for the whole, change up the order a bit, and add some super healthy kale to finish.  I think Richard would approve.  He was a teacher, and his recipe is a perfect starting point to run away with a great dish.  Here's how mine went.

Pasta E Fagioli

2 T olive oil
1/3# thick sliced pancetta
2 yellow onions thickly sliced
1/2 red and 1/2 yellow bell pepper sliced in thin strips
2 carrots, cleaned and sliced thin
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup shredded basil leaves (fresh only)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch dried red pepper flakes
2, 14.5oz cans of diced, fire-roasted tomatoes
2 cans canellini beans, rinsed
7 cups chicken stock (low salt is best)
2 1/2 cups dried pasta (short is best)
salt and pepper to taste
2 scallions thinly sliced on the diagonal
fresh grated parmesan cheese, for serving

In a large pot, heat oil and cook pancetta to desired state of crispy.  Add onions, carrots, peppers and saute until they begin to soften.  Add garlic, half of the basil, oregano and dried red pepper and stir occasionally to keep everything cooking evenly.  When the liquid is dried up in the pan, add the tomatoes the beans, and the chicken stock. When it boils, turn heat down to a simmer and let it go.  I let mine simmer for a few hours.  If the liquid is disappearing, add a little water and cover the pot.  It can be made to this point and chilled.

To serve, bring back to a boil, adding more liquid if necessary, and add the dried pasta.  Cook just to al dente.  Season with salt and pepper, add the rest of the basil, and ladle into bowls with a garnish of scallions and parmesan.  I also topped it with a little roasted kale. A drizzle of olive oil is good too!  Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

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So here come the resolutions....
I am going to race walk in a sanctioned event every month this year.  Not sure what is offered in chilly January, but this is my goal.  Fitness and causes all in one long walk!  No running on this bad meniscus  but I can hoof it pretty fast.

I quit the Secret Recipe Club, but I miss having to try out other recipes every month.  It was the posting on time and then praying someone would stop by that killed me.  So I am going to make a conscious effort to try out at least one new recipe from a random blog every month.  I am also going to blog a new cookbook recipe every month and an old family recipe as well!

I will still be baking sugar cookies, that is a given, as long as my friends have my phone number!  But I am a writer by nature, a foodie and then a cookie decorator.  I love royal icing as my medium, but I have other loves as well.

We are dusting off the sewing machine.  My sister and I are loading up the Etsy store, so stay tuned for cool stuff!

And finally, I am determined to get one of my plays produced.  I am just writing away....hopefully my underpaid manager is submitting them with lovingly worded letters so my work will be on stage.  Look out Hollywood, I have big plans....

Happy New Year.  I hope you find success, health and happiness in the next 365 days....