Saturday, September 27, 2008

My First Daring Bakers Challenge - Lavash Crackers

This is my first month with the Daring Bakers, a group which agrees to all bake the same recipe and post on the same day. This month's recipe, provided by Shel and Natalie was for lavash crackers. This recipe required about half the work of bread, and was absolutely delicious! We were also permitted to concoct our own topping or dip, so I scrounged around my refrigerator for this week's leftovers, and came up with some beans and diced tomatoes, which became a tangy salsa, a perfectly healthy companion for these crackers.

Here is the recipe. For a gluten-free version, you can look to either of the hosts' blogs.

Lavash Crackers
From The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart
(makes 1 sheet pan of crackers)

1 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 Tb agave syrup or sugar (I used sugar
1 Tb vegetable oil
1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb water, at room temperature (I used 1/2 cup)
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings (I used poppy and caraway)

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt, yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the "windowpane test" and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4. Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt - a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.

6. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

7. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Bean Tomato Salsa

1/2 14 oz. can black beans
1/2 can kidney beans
1/2 can cannellini beans
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes (unsalted)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar (lemon or lime juice might work well, also)

1. Combine all ingredients in saucepan and heat through.
2. Mash salsa to desired consistency with a fork.
3. Use a strainer to drain excess liquid, and allow to cool.

Check out the Daring Bakers blogroll for more!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rise and Shine...

This is not a recipe for those unfathomable "morning people." I've been continually baffled by anyone who professes an affinity for a particular time of day. They all have their moments, certainly, but I find that a great morning or evening is something I'm never able to predict.

When I was in school, my family devised several methods for rousing each other on those dark winter mornings. I remember well being dragged brutally down the stairs by my younger sister, still feebly feigning sleep. And my mother occasionally skipped from room to room, switching on lights, singing: "rise and shine, and give me your glory, glory," a song which I believe she had modified to suit her secular purposes. I may also have lived through a phase of playing Marley's "Get up, Stand up" every single day. This was a trend generally regarded with malice.

Hey! The morning after I made these gingerbread cupcakes with Neufchâtel cheese icing, I woke up early (on a day off!) to photograph them! Cupcakes for breakfast (with apple tea) are exceedingly effective motivation.

As you can see, some of the cupcakes had raisins and apples mixed in. I kept about half plain for those with more discerning tastebuds, although CERTAIN (nine-year-old) people could only manage to lick off the frosting. I hope you never endure the agony that is throwing away your own homemade cupcake, sadly made bare by the caresses of a capricious tongue.

I also hope you never have to write that sentence.

Gingerbread (Apple Raisin) Cupcakes
(Makes 16-24 cupcakes, depending on additions)

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 egg, beaten
1 cup molasses
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (TIP: I know I always use this. I've discovered that it works well with baked goods that are darker in color and flavor, particularly spice cakes or ones that contain cinnamon. You won't see me [although I've definitely tried] using wheat flour in lighter recipes like yellow cake or sugar cookies. In these cupcakes, even the pickiest of eaters couldn't taste the whole grains, so go for it!)
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. salt
1 cup warm milk

If you'd like to add apples/raisins:

2 apples, chopped
1 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, and spices).
3. Add the butter in small pieces, and mix.
4. Add, one at a time: egg, molasses, brown sugar, and milk, beating after each addition.
5. If using apple and raisin, fold in.
6. Bake in greased or papered muffin tins for 10-15 minutes. These will bake fast, particularly if they're plain, so be sure to check! They are done when the outside is slightly darkened, and a knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Neufchâtel cheese icing:

1 package Neufchâtel cheese (TIP: You can substitute the familiar cream cheese here, but [American] Neufchâtel tastes similar, and is lower in fat and usually available at the same price.)
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
2-3 cups confectioners’ sugar

1. Whip butter and cheese together with a whisk (or the whisk attachment on your electric mixer).
2. Add milk and vanilla.
3. Add confectioner's sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, until you reach the desired consistency. Frosting should stand up in stiff peaks, but still be spreadable.
4. Frost and decorate cupcakes! (I used raisins. Chopped nuts would be nice!)

This cupcake entry is part of Sugar High Friday, hosted this month by Fanny, of foodbeam.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Presidential Race Tartelettes

I would estimate that I spend up to one third of my waking hours on the computer each day, and one of the most engrossing ways in which I procrastinate or avoid impending work, not including this blog (which, it appears, I have not been very engrossed in at all recently), is reading news and political blogs. This isn't really any more enjoyable than actually completing my work; in fact, it is ultimately less so, because my sense of a looming catastrophe is made even more strong, and I achieve no feeling of accomplishment from fretting over politics. Sometimes we all need a break. This recipe is a break from my break. I don't get much done. Have you noticed?

The title of this post is a stretch, I'll admit, but! These berry tartelettes feature red and blue berries, coexisting peacefully, and making everyone happy. While we watch speech after speech of politicians claiming to have our best interests in mind, these delicious desserts are just WAITING to please.

I baked these over a month ago, and I know that berries like these are no longer in season, and some of us might be disgusted by the artificial, overpriced fruits in the produce section nowadays. The good news is that I'm almost certain that frozen mixed berries would serve just as well!

Also, I will be honest with you--I did not intend, originally, to make tartelettes. I wanted to make turnovers. However, as usually occurs in my kitchen, mistakes were made. I miscalculated how my many changes to this recipe would factor in to the consistency of the dough. And so, I pressed it into muffin tins, filled it with berries, and voila! Still delicious, if slightly less beautiful (than the turnovers, which were hypothetical, anyway).

Nothing is perfect. Except Tina Fey's Palin impression.

Rustic Chocolate Berry Tartelettes
(These are whole grain, and vegan, too!)

2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup Earth Balance, chilled
1/2 cup shortening, chilled
2 tsp. salt
1 cup cocoa
1/2 cup sugar (I used turbinado)
1 cup ice water

1/2 pint raspberries
1/2 pint blackberries
1 pint blueberries
(OR 3 cups frozen mixed berries)
3 tbsp. sugar

1. Mix the berries with sugar in a bowl, and place in the refrigerator. This is called "macerating!"
2. Combine flour, salt, cocoa, and sugar.
3. Cut small pieces of the Earth Balance and shortening in with knives, a pastry cutter, or your fingers. (TIP: For any pastry or biscuit dough, the fat needs to be super cold to keep it from melting. I put my EB & shortening in the freezer for a few minutes beforehand! Also, you can use cold water to keep your fingers cold if you're using them to mix.) I have heard that a food processor works for this, but unfortunately I do not own one.
4. When your mixture is a coarse meal with pea-sized chunks, begin to pour ice water (by the tablespoon) into the bowl, kneading until a dough is formed. You may not use all of the water.
5. Cut the dough ball into two equal parts. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, grease a muffin tin. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
7. Unwrap the dough and roll it out on a floured surface. Cut into squares, and press into muffin tins. Fill with berry mixture.
8. Bake for approximately 20 minutes.
9. Allow to cool COMPLETELY (several hours) before removing from the muffin tin. Alternatively, you could bake these in individual molds, and eat them warm straight from the molds.

This makes about 12 tartelettes (enough to fill a muffin tin) if you taste-test the dough, as I did!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Indian in Davis Square

My experience with Indian cuisine is severely limited, I'm afraid to admit. Before this year, I'd only eaten at 2 or 3 Indian restaurants, and only from buffets. I'm from a small town, and went to college in a small town, where any type of ethnic cuisine was always at least a 30 minute drive away. My relocation to a big city has been overwhelming in multiple ways, not least of which is the availability of a stunning array of dining options. I'm just beginning to explore Davis Square in Somerville, just a mile from my new apartment, and one place that caught my eye was Diva Indian Bistro.

The Boston Globe's only complaint regarding this restaurant is unreliable service. I have some advice for anyone wishing to avoid this particular nuisance: eat at 4:30 in the afternoon on a Sunday. The dining staff just mills around your table, ready to fill your every need. This was not actually a planned strategy on my part; my Sunday schedule (by which I mean "what time I roll out of bed") can be strange.

So! I ordered the vegetable pakoras (pictured) and Shahi Navratan Korma, "nine different fresh garden vegetables cooked in a creamy sauce w/ almonds, cashews, raisins and spices." The pakoras were crisp and served with a tangy sauce. The main dish, served with rice, was amazing. I have no photo with which to present you, (a) because the ingredients are combined in a such a way that a picture would not be altogether enticing--the whole dish is really only one color--and (b) because I was busy eating. This dish was amazing. I love any combination of cashews with vegetables, and this was no exception. The raisins became plump and sweeter when cooked, and were a sweet surprise in almost every bite. The portion is also larger than sufficient, and (I think) Indian food, particularly curries like this one, make great leftovers.

My omnivore dinner date ordered chicken naan and the Tandoori chicken and was also noticeably pleased.

246 Elm Street
Somerville, MA 02144
(617) 629–4963