Pita Bread

pitabreadI made another big batch of baba ganoush. Nothing suits it better than homemade, hot-out of-the-oven pita bread. Seriously.

The key to getting a pocket to form is a really hot oven. Mine didn’t form perfect pockets by any means but I didn’t care. They were delicious anyway. This recipe is adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
3 cups flour (1/2 white; 1/2 wheat)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
olive oil

Method
-Dissolve yeast in warm water; with sugar/honey, stir and let stand for 5 minutes.
-Mix flour and salt in a large bowl.
-Add yeast/water mix to flour and mix well.
-Turn dough to a flour surface and knead for about 10 minutes.
-Place dough in a large oiled bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until double in size (about an hour).
– Punch dough down and knead for a few minutes then divide into 6 balls. Let stand for 15 minutes.
-Heat oven to 475ºF. If you have a pizza stone, place it in the oven to heat.
-On a lightly floured surface, roll balls into circles 1/2 thick and about as wide as your hand.
-If using a pizza stone, place the dough two at a time on the stone (or as many that will fit). If using a baking sheet, place the rolled out dough on an ungreased baking sheet. You can also place the dough directly on the oven rack. Cook for 8-10 minutes. The dough should puff up.
-Remove pita bread from the oven, wrap in a clean towel and place in paper bag for 15 minutes. This will deflate the bread and create the pocket.

Maple Marshmallows

My friend Virginia asked me if I had ever made marshmallows. She was looking for marshmallows without “all that junk” the store- bought varieties have and didn’t want to shell out 10 bucks for the artisanal ones. I hadn’t made them before, but Fairlight, the awe-inspiring baker at Otto’s Market, makes them about every week. She assured me that they were easy, so I decided to give them a whirl.

Even though corn syrup was invented in 1882 (so it falls within my 19th century ingredient criteria), I decided to use maple syrup instead. I also tried a batch substituting honey for the syrup. I thought the honey flavor was over-powering. You can substitute corn syrup or use any combination of syrups. I have some Steen’s cane syrup I want to try next.

Historically, marshmallows were made from the marsh mallow root, which has properties similar to gelatin. I would love to try to make them using the root, but today I’ll keep it simple.

You’ll need a candy thermometer and a stand mixer. You could use a hand mixer but you’ll need to hold it for about 15 minutes. Marshmallows have been being made since before the invention of electricity, so I suppose you could also use a whisk and get a good forearm workout.

I used these sites for references:
Cooking for Engineers (love this site!), Martha Stewart and this nifty blog, Brownie Points (this site has a nice pdf of a recipe).

Ingredients
4 envelopes unflavored gelatin (one box)
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups cornstarch (or powdered sugar)

Directions

1. Line 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with parchment paper, be sure the sides are covered with the paper. Lightly oil it then generously coat with cornstarch or powdered sugar. Fairlight suggests using cornstarch if you plan to store them for any length of time.

2. Put 3/4 cup of water into a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin into the water and set aside to let soften (this is called blooming the gelatin, which must be named after Mr. Oscar Bloom who invented a device for measuring the rigidity of gelatin).

3. Put sugar, maple syrup, salt, and 3/4 cup water into a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar.

4. Once the sugar is dissolved, cook, without stirring, until mixture registers 238º F on a candy thermometer, about 9 minutes.

5. Using a whisk attachment on your mixer, start to mix the blooming gelatin. With the mixer on low, slowly add the hot syrup to the gelatin mixture. Remember that stuff is 238º F so be careful!

6. After you have all of the hot syrup mixed in, gradually raise the speed to high. Beat until the mixture is very stiff, about 11 minutes.

7. Pour into the prepared dish and smooth with a lightly oiled spatula. Leave uncovered until firm (about 3 hours but overnight is ok).

8. Sift cornstarch (or powered sugar) on a cutting board. Turn the marshmallows onto the board. Dust a pizza cutter or knife with cornstarch and cut them into 1 inch squares (bigger or smaller if you want).

9. Toss the squares in cornstarch (or confectioners’ sugar). Be sure they are well coated. They will be very sticky if they aren’t. Store in an airtight container for several weeks.

Hot chocolate anyone?

Cinnamon Tincture and Liqueur

I love cinnamon. I put it in everything I can get away with, including a sprinkle in my coffee every morning. Turns out, not only is cinnamon delicious, it’s also good for you.

This blog entry is from herbalist extraordinaire, Kate Temple-West of Friendly Herbalist. She’s much better suited to talk about the virtues of cinnamon. Thanks, Kate! Be sure to check out her site at: www.friendlyherbalist.com. She plans to start a blog soon, so stay tuned.

From Kate:
Cinnamon is a delicious warming spice with many culinary and medicinal uses. It is excellent for circulation, and is especially helpful for people with perpetual cold hands and feet. In both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda it is used to ward off colds. It is diaphoretic, (opens the pores and helps you to sweat), which helps to remove toxins and other impurities from the body. It is anti-bacterial, helps to regulate blood sugar, is pain relieving, promotes digestion, and eases muscle tension. It is astringent (drying), and is helpful in cases of diarrhea by sprinkling it on top of a stewed green apple. It makes a good mouth wash for bleeding gums. Needless to say these facts are no substitute for a doctor, but they are still useful to know in a pinch, since pretty much everyone has some cinnamon powder in their kitchen somewhere.

Click here for the recipe>>

Spicy Dark-Chocolate Pudding

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to eat pudding every day. Like my other resolutions, I’ve already slacked off, but today, I’m getting back on track…at least on the eating pudding part.

I don’t know why anyone would ever bother with pre-packaged pudding. Homemade pudding is easy, delicious, and you most likely have everything you need in your cupboard.

2 cups of milk
3/4 cup of cocoa powder
1/2 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
1 teaspoon of vanilla (or almond extract)
1/2 cup of dark chocolate bar chopped-up (or chocolate chips)
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (optional, this will make it noticeably spicy, if you only want a hint of spice, just add a pinch)

-Add the milk, cocoa powder, sugar, cayenne pepper, salt and cornstarch to pan.
-Heat over medium heat until it boils (about five minutes). Stir constantly.
-Continue to heat for another minute or two, until it starts to thicken.
-Remove from heat, stir in vanilla extract and the chocolate bar.
-Pour into four containers. Eat warm or chill. If you chill it, place either plastic wrap or wax paper directly on the surface to keep a skin from forming on it.

This version makes a rich, dark pudding. You can make it more of a milk chocolate pudding by decreasing the cocoa powder to 1/4 cup, increasing the cornstarch to 2 tablespoons and using milk chocolate instead of dark.

If you want something really special, top it with fresh whipped cream. One of my husband’s New Year’s resolutions is to eat more whipped cream…it’s going to be a great year…

Happy New Year!

Homemade Yogurt

Yogurt is the perfect snack food. It has protein, calcium and probably most importantly, probiotics (the “good bacteria” that promote a healthy digestive system). Homemade yogurt is cheap, easy and green. Make your own and think of all those little yogurt containers you won’t have to toss!

You need yogurt to make yogurt. The cool thing is after you make your first batch, you can save some for your next batch. I recommend taking the starter for your next batch out when your yogurt is first made and storing it in a separate container. That way you won’t have to be annoyed when SOMEBODY uses the last of the yogurt and you have to buy more to start your next batch (to be fair, that somebody is more often me than my dear husband).

You don’t need a fancy yogurt maker, but I do recommend a thermometer. You can wing it without, but until you get the hang of it, a thermometer will help give you consistent results.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons plain yogurt (choose a brand with active live cultures)
1 quart milk (I use whole milk)

Method

  • Set out the yogurt so that it is room temperature when added to the milk.
  • Slowly heat up milk in a non-reactive pot, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 180 degrees or until it forms a skin. Don’t let boil.
  • Turn off the heat.
  • Once the temperature drops to 110-115 degrees, stir in the yogurt. You can either just wait for the temperature to drop or if you want to speed up the process, you can set the pot in a sink filled with ice water.
  • Place mixture in a heated glass or ceramic container with a lid (running it under hot water should do the trick). I use Mason jars.
  • Cover and keep in a semi-warm place for 8-12 hours (or up to 24 hours). I pour the yogurt in a heated mason jar and place it in an insulated lunch bag.

That’s it. Easy, right?