Yoghurt for the new year

After the delicous treats of the holiday season, I am usually ready for a little abstinence to begin the new year. I don’t drink milk because it gives me digestive troubles, but yoghurt actually assists my digestion. Yoghurt insures that you live a cultured (and regular)  life! I eat it with bananas or other treats, and also use it in recipes in place of buttermilk, (because I make the yoghurt myself and keep it around and I figure as long as it’s cultured it’s good…)

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Yoghurt is easy to make, and I like to make it myself. It’s not really any cheaper than buying it ready made, but it’s less wasteful, since we avoid consuming lots of little plastic cups full of yoghurt. Another thing is that I buy the unpasteurized organic milk at the Farmers Market. (If you let unpasteurized milk sit around too long and go bad, you can still use it to make farmer’s cheese. If it’s pasteurized, you can only toss it.) I get the creamy whole milk, because I like it. No skim or non fat around here folks. If the yoghurt sits around in the fridge for about a week, it develops a little layer of cream at the top.

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Pizza from Scratch in an Hour

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When I have lots of little containers of leftovers in my refrigerator, I think about making pizza. I knead the dough in my KitchenAid in about five minutes. You could also use the dough cycle on a bread machine or a food processor. If you knead it by hand, you’ll need an extra ten or fifteen minutes and you’ll get a little good arm exercise. Using yeast and making dough didn’t come easy to me for some reason. When my friend came to visit and I wanted to make some fresh bread, my thermometer was broken and I killed my yeast and failed. Now I don’t even use a thermometer. If your liquid is hot like bath water, that’s about right. Sometimes the dough has been too thin and hard to handle. One time I had to fold my pizza dough in two, it had gotten so stretchy. It’s incidents like that make my husband call me Lucy, for Lucille Ball. Adding a little flour can help, but don’t get too carried away in the other direction. Whatever happens, don’t tell anyone. They probably won’t notice, or they’ll tell you that it was the best crust you ever made yet…
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It’s better the second time

You can take her out of New York, but she’ll still want bagels. Not from the supermarket either. She might even dream about bagels and wake up with a little drool leaking from between her lips. But that doesn’t mean she ever knew how to make them herself.

Bagels made from scratch, with garlic, onion and sea salt.

Bagels made from scratch, with garlic, onion and sea salt.

It turns out, (after very little research) that boiling the dough in honey water for a minute on each side, and using a little malt in the batter, is what makes a bagel a bagel, (baked at 425 for twenty minutes.)

The first time I made bagels, I handled them too much, and they wilted on me. This time I didn’t rush things. I let them take their time rising the first time, and the second time too when I poked my finger in each one to make a hole. Then after boiling them, I laid them down gently on a well greased pan. The second time was much better.  I’m sure that the more intimate I get with my bagel batter, the better the bagel will be!

Homestyle Puff Pastry

Homestyle puff pastries made with pear and strawberries.

I made these puff pastries from scratch, with some fast ripening pears, and some frozen strawberries that I drained and sliced first.

When looking for recipes for fruit I often come across puff pastry. Most of the time the recipe calls for already-made puff pastry dough that you can buy at the supermarket. I’m stuck on making things from scratch whenever possible, so I have never yet bought puff pastry dough. But I understand why people do. It’s because puff pastry is an art form. It is definitely not easy to make a beautiful, flaky pastry dough for a tart, from scratch. And, it takes patience.  Such perfection is created with extra thin actual layers of butter and flour. But it sure does taste good to bite into such buttery joy surrounding your favorite cooked fruit.

Most of the time I will just make a simple pie. I have never made the for-real puff pastry, but I have evolved using my favorite pie dough recipe that calls for lots of butter. I simply use a different technique to create a homestyle puff pastry that is not so time consuming or difficult. It doesn’t look as pretty, but sure does taste flaky and delicious. The secret is to cut up your dough instead of mixing it.

Ingredients for Pie/Puff Pastry Dough – Makes two pie shells or twelve puff pastries

  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 cups cold unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup cold water with ice cubes in it

Ingredients for Puff Pastry Filling

  • 12 slices of butter
  • 3 tbs brown sugar
  • cinnamon
  • 6 pears peeled, cut in half, cored then sliced thinly

To make your puff pastry, work directly on your clean counter or a large cutting board. Mix together the flours, salt and sugar and make a pile with the mixture. Cut the butter into small chunks and place the chunks on top of the pile of flour. Use a large knife or a straight edge like a pastry dough shaper, and continuously cut the butter into the flour, until the butter is in very small chunks, about like peas, and spread evenly throughout the flour.  This takes me about seven or eight minutes. Gather it all into a pile again and make an indentation in the top and pour about a quarter cup of ice water in. Now gradually cut the water and flour mixture together. Use the remaining quarter cup of water over the top and cut that into your mixture, until you wind up with a dryish flaky mixture that doesn’t seem to hold together.

Avoid the temptation to work it with your hands at this point. You want to retain this flakiness, or you will wind up with pie dough. Use your shaper or large knife and make a rectangle with your dough, about four inches high.  Fold your rectangle in half by sliding your straight edge under half of your mixture and placing it over the other half. It will be flaky and messy. Shape it back into a rectangle with your straight edge, press down on it lightly to spread it out a little, and then fold it in half again. These are homestyle layers that you are making. It will be messy again, so shape it into a rectangle another time, fold it one more time, and then shape it one last time.  Your butter will be getting warm by now, making your mixture a little less crumbly. Wrap your dough, shaped in a rectangle, and put it in the freezer for ten minutes, or the fridge for about half an hour.

In the mean time you can get your filling ready by mixing together the butter, sugar and cinnamon to taste, and slicing your fruit. When your dough is chilled, cut your rectangle in half. Take one half and roll it out to about 1/4 inch thickness. Do NOT over roll it. If you need to, sprinkle a little four to keep the butter from sticking to your rolling pin. If it is a little crumbly just press it with the palm of your hand to form your dough around the edges. Cut your large rectangle into six even pieces. Brush each piece with your butter cinnamon sugar mixture, and place your fruit on top in the middle. It should be just malleable enough now to fold up the edges of the dough and pinch them together to form a low border to keep the fruit in.  Use a spatula to place each one on a cookie sheet. Repeat the process with the other half of the dough, or save that half in the freezer or fridge, for future use.

Cook your pastry in a preheated oven at 400 degrees, for twenty minutes, or until golden brown. Serve while still a little warm and you will enjoy every bit of the buttery goodness mixed with fresh fruit. The flakiness of the dough, created by keeping the butter and flour as separated as possible, is worth the extra fifteen or twenty minutes it takes to make these pastry treats once in awhile, instead of the always dependable pie.

Smoky Carrot Sweet Potato Soup

Toasted walnut butter melting in a bowl of smoky carrot sweet potato soup.

Toasted walnut butter melting in a bowl of smoky carrot sweet potato soup.

It has become a Mims family tradition for my husband to smoke a turkey for Thanksgiving. I love the smoky hickory flavor and use every bit of it that I can. I keep some drippings for adding to gravy. I freeze some chunks of leftovers to use in stews, and most importantly I make broth with the bones. The smoked turkey broth is the magical ingredient for flavorful soups and stews.

To make the broth I use my largest pot, and throw in the turkey bones after the carving is done. I add some garlic and onions and whatever veggies I have around that are getting a little old, more than cover it all with water and some salt, and boil everything for an hour or two on a low simmer. Then I strain it and cook it down to between three quarters to a half of what’s in the pot after straining, another hour or two. This year I put five quarts of this concentrated stock in my freezer, but I already took one of them out to make carrot soup and use up my leftover sweet potatoes.

The smoky flavor of the stock made the soup especially delicious. It had a rich creamy texture to it without using any cream at all. If you don’t have any smoky broth you could try using a liquid hickory smoke flavor. It’s pretty standard to use orange juice or some chopped apple in a carrot soup. I had some oranges around, so I juiced one. You could replace the orange juice with a chopped up apple. I also used some leftover roasted garlic. Roasting garlic is as simple as drizzling a little oil over a whole garlic with it’s top sliced off, and placing it in a covered dish in the oven at 350 degrees for about half an hour, or until it is soft and the garlic cloves are starting to burst out of the top. The walnut butter recipe came from a favorite cookbook: Williams-Sonoma Complete Seasonal Cookbook. It adds a little crunch to the texture that just made it into a perfect soup. If I may say so myself. 🙂

Ingredients for Smoky Carrot Sweet Potato Soup;

4-6 cups smoked turkey broth
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 cup butter
5 or 6 large carrots, sliced
1-2 cups mashed sweet potatoes
juice from one orange
roasted garlic, cumin powder, ginger powder, salt, pepper

Ingredients for toasted walnut butter:

a handful of chopped walnuts
six tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons oil (walnut, olive or whatever you like.)
a pinch of sugar, salt and pepper

1. Make your toasted walnut butter first. Combine the chopped walnuts with the sugar, seasoning and oil on a cookie tray, and toast in the oven at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes. Allow to cool and then combine with the butter, using a fork, and cool in the fridge while making your soup.

2. Combine the smoked turkey broth with water to make eight cups.  Start heating in a soup pot or crock pot with the mashed sweet potatoes and some roasted garlic. If you don’t have cooked sweet potatoes  or roasted garlic, you can chop up two fresh sweet potatoes and a couple cloves of garlic, and add them to the pan in the next step.

3. In a large pan combine the carrot slices, onions and butter and sauté until the carrots are tender, ten to fifteen minutes. When ready, pour the vegetables into the soup pot. Season to taste with cumin powder, ginger powder, salt and pepper. (You could also use some curry powder.)

4. I have a hand held blender that I stick right into my soup pot to blend all the ingredients into a creamy texture. If you don’t have one, you can blend small portions at a time in your food processor, or even just use a potato masher to make a chunkier version of this soup. Simmer for a little while, or keep on warm in your crock pot until ready to serve.

5. Ladle soup into bowls and add a teaspoon of your walnut butter in the center.

Smothered Eggplant a New Southern Classic

Lately the garden has been giving us lots of eggplant and bell peppers. I’ve gotten used to making a classic eggplant parmesan, and also breaded fried eggplant. When I call something classic, these days, it’s because when I look up recipes on-line I come across numerous, almost identical recipes. If I am ignorant about a particular food, a classic recipe is a great starting point.

So, the other night I prepared some fried eggplant as a side dish. I also wanted to use up some oldish dinner rolls. I cut them in half and laid them in a baking dish with a little milk in the bottom. Then I looked up some biscuit and gravy recipes, looking for a gravy to make. Another classic, I found out, is sausage gravy over biscuits, but we don’t eat pork sausage, and I didn’t have any kind of sausage anyway. But I found something similar at http://www.bigoven.com/recipe/38421/Biscuit-Gravy. When we sat down to eat, my husband mused that fried eggplant with gravy would make a good dish. So on Monday night I got out a baking dish and put leftover rice on the bottom, the leftover fried eggplant in a layer over the rice, and the leftover biscuit gravy over all that, and warmed it up as another side dish; (Monday is leftovers night.) For someone who prefers to taste the expected (as opposed to the unexpected) that went over really well with my southern husband (maybe because he thought of it.)

Most southerners I meet have never cooked an eggplant, even if they have heard of one (not common.) But if they made it like this, with their favorite biscuit gravy recipe, then eggplant would become a new southern classic I am sure! Another thing I have now done with eggplant is to make a stuffing, or dressing as they say down here. Originally I got the idea from Emeril. He has an eggplant casserole recipe that I tried. It has a lot of bread crumbs in it, which made it taste a little like a dressing. Last night I made a roast chicken. Instead of the bread crumbs, I used some more leftover bread and biscuits that I cut up in cubes and toasted in the oven first. Instead of the cream in his recipe, I used broth that I made with the gizzards and some onion and carrot. This made a delicious eggplant dressing to eat with the chicken. I managed to use up three eggplants this way. I used the rest of the broth to make a creamless gravy as well.

Yum. We eat really well around here, if I may say so myself.