Monday, December 26, 2011

Sesame-Ginger Rice Krispie Treats

When it comes to food allergies, there are some real rough ones out there. People so sensitive to cross-contamination that they can never eat at restaurants, or passengers who can scarcely breathe the air on planes serving in-flight peanuts. Compared to them, my sister has it pretty easy. All she has to avoid is sesame seeds. Beyond a proper tahini-laden falafel and the occasional bun or bagel, there's not much she misses. But these days, I feel a bit sorry for her. Because she can't eat these sesame-ginger rice krispie treats.

This recipe comes from the mad geniuses at Momofuku Milk Bar (via Gilt Taste), and for the most part follows the standard 1920s formula. You've got the usual sticky-sweet goo of melted marshmallows and a bit of butter, used to pull together a pile of rice cereal into something far more delicious than the sum of its parts. But here's the simple addition that takes it up several notches: toasted sesame seeds and fresh ginger juice. That's it, but it feels like so much more. The seeds give a nutty depth, and the ginger juice gives a shot of spicy-hot flavor. Together they cut through the sweetness a bit, keeping things from getting too cloying, but still keeping it firmly in the realm of a sweetly addictive dessert. It's comfort food gone elegant, and unless your allergy restrictions require otherwise, I strongly recommend giving it a go.

Sesame-Ginger Rice Krispie Treats

adapted, but hardly, from Helen Jo at Momofuku Milk Bar, via Gilt Taste

yields ~50 (the original recipe made twice this amount, which I think would lead to some very poor choices, so I halved it)

1 Tbsp white sesame seeds
1 Tbsp black sesame seeds (if you can't find them, feel free to use all white sesame seeds)
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1/2 Tbsp ginger juice (I like to grate the ginger and then squeeze the juice out with a garlic press)
pinch salt
2 cups miniature marshmallows (I used vegan marshmallows, which took a while to melt but worked fine in the end)
3 cups Rice Krispies (or its hippie equivalent)

Butter an 8" square pan and set aside. Heat a large pot over a medium-low heat, and dry-toast the sesame seeds, moving them around so they toast evenly, until the white ones have darkened slightly (~4-5 minutes). Transfer to a small dish.

Add the butter, ginger juice, salt and marshmallows to the pot. Cook, stirring, until the marshmallows are totally melted. Remove from heat, then add the Rice Krispies and sesame seeds, stirring well until the mixture is well-combined. Turn the mixture out into the buttered pan, pressing firmly to compress it evenly. When it cools, turn it out and cut into bite-sized pieces (seriously, go for bite-sized -- these pack a wallop).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Cavalcade of Fried: Chanukah Pakora, Zeppole and Chickpea

Last year I gave you latkes for Chanukah, both traditional and fancypants. And latkes will be on my holiday menu this week as well. But really, why stop there?

This December I decided to push Chanukah's greasy fried-food tradition a little further, and rustled up some recipes for cauliflower and onion Indian pakora fritters, smoky Iberian fried chickpeas, and, in what was nearly my downfall, some oh-my-goodness amazing Italian zeppole doughnuts filled with an orange-scented, chocolate-studded creamy mascarpone filling (I posted the picture on Facebook, and an eager friend showed up on my doorstep within 45 minutes and relieved me of the remainder, before I ended up with a delicious stomachache). You can get recipes for all of the above deliciousness over at The Oregonian.

And what better to wash this down with than a frosty mug of Hanukkah beer? What? You think beer is a bit too goyische for the Festival of Lights? Then click on over to NPR to hear about the surprisingly long history of Jews and booze. Happy Hanukkah!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Quinoa with Broccoli, Avocado and Feta

Last week I was working on an audio project, trying to cajole a two-year-old into singing "the wheels on the bus" into my microphone. My story is about public transit, and it would have made a fairly adorable little coda. But, as it turns out, two-year-olds don't always want to do what you want them to. Who knew?

As part of my assignment I snapped a few pictures of the willful little cherub, and as part of my song-taping tactic I scrolled through them to get him in good spirits. See look, it's you! Who is that? That's right! And what's that? In the middle of all this, I accidentally landed on these broccoli photos (the problem of scrolling through a food blogger's camera). Surprisingly, these turned out to be a highly amusing for the toddler set. I couldn't get this kid to sing the song in the end. But I did get lots of amusing tape of him saying bwoccoli, and then giggling at the absurdity of it all.

I can't say I share my subject's wide-eyed amusement with this dish. But I can say, without reservation, that this is a really really good dish, one of my happiest recent discoveries. It comes from 101 Cookbooks, and is a perfect trifecta of a recipe -- simple, healthy, and delicious all at once. And it's not just everyday delicious -- it's delicious in a really interesting way. 101 Cookbooks takes some basic ingredients, but uses them in an inventive (and wholly successful) combination. Broccoli is just barely cooked, and then you enjoy the delicious florets whole while blitzing the ho-hum stems into a garlicky pesto, which dresses up some quinoa. Then you toss in some buttery avocado and briny feta (and, if you follow the recommendations, some slivered almonds, but I ran out). It's my new favorite weeknight song.

Quinoa with Broccoli, Avocado and Feta

adapted, a bit liberally, from 101 Cookbooks
serves ~4, though we felt compelled to eat ridiculously large portions because it was so very good

If you want to make the broccoli pesto on its own (or have more control over the cooking time), you can boil the broccoli for a minute in salted water, then shock it to stop the cooking. But the lazyman's one-pot version seems to work quite well.

2 cups salted water
1 cup quinoa
1 large bunch broccoli, cut into small florets and stems (peel if needed), ~ 5 cups
1 clove garlic, pressed (pressing isn't necessary if your blender or food processor works well, but I always seem to be left with a surprising jolt of garlic chunk if I don't cut it up first)
1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted
juice of 1/2 small lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 ripe avocado, cubed
1/4 cup crumbled feta

Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Add the quinoa, cover, and lower the heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat, and add the broccoli and stems, and re-cover and allow to steam for 5 minutes. The broccoli should turn bright green and become just barely tender.

When everything has cooked, scoop the broccoli stems into a food processor or blender, and tip the remaining broccoli and quinoa into a serving bowl (if you don't want to fuss picking out the stems from tops, you can just take half the broccoli and not worry about which is which, but I find that going for just stems in the pesto isn't too much of a bother). Add the garlic, half of the almonds, the lemon juice and the oil into the processor, and pulse until a fairly smooth pesto is formed. Add salt and pepper to taste -- if you're using feta, you won't need as much salt, but keep in mind that the pesto will be spread throughout the quinoa. Tip the pesto onto the quinoa, and toss to coat evenly. top with the avocado, feta, and remaining almonds, and serve.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

(Partially Whole Wheat) Challah

A few years ago I heard a certain Minnesota public radio host say that, when it comes right down to it, the best pumpkin pie you ever had is really not all that different from the worst pumpkin pie you ever had. And I got to say that I'm pretty much with him. There are dishes where technique and ingredients make a huge impact, and different versions of the recipe are barely recognizable as the same species. And then there are dishes where, unless you flub things disastrously, the difference between takes is a bit more subtle. Like pumpkin pie. Or challah. Which is all to say that most challah that I've had (and I'm talking homemade, not the cottony grocery-store versions) have been good. I mean, if you've got an enriched, honey-sweet eggy bread, how can it not be? It's just that this version is a little bit better.

This recipe comes via the lovely blog Sassy Radish, and has a few masterful tweaks that raise it above the usual specimen (without require any additional culinary knowledge or fussing). First off, it's a well-hydrated dough, which means that it's softer and stickier than you may think it should be, but rewards you with a moist, well-textured loaf. And instead of the usual water and vegetable oil for the liquid, you use some orange juice and olive oil -- they're subtle enough that you might not be able to call them out if you didn't know, but they give the challah a more complex flavor and sweet-savory edge. It's light and airy (even given the whole wheat flour I always feel compelled to add), with a burnished golden crust, and a rich flavor. Yeah, sometimes things are only better by subtle degrees. But still -- why not go for better?

(Partially Whole Wheat) Challah

adapted (and whole wheat-ized, because that seems to be what I do) from Sassy Radish, from a recipe by the ever-amazing Melissa Clark)

yields one large loaf -- I recently halved the recipe for a dinner for four, where it was nearly demolished

1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup water
1 Tbsp. active yeast
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup honey (this makes for a challah with a pronounced sweet edge - you can cut it down if you want something more neutral, but it's lovely as it is)
1 tsp coarse salt
2 cups whole wheat flour (if you're not a fan of whole-grain breads, you can use all white flour instead)
~2 cups bread flour
1 egg, lightly beaten with a splash of water (henceforth known as the egg wash)

Pour the orange juice and water in the bowl of a stand mixer, then sprinkle in the yeast. Let sit ~5 minutes, to allow the yeast to soften and bloom.

Add the egg, egg yolks, oil, honey and salt. Fit the mixer with a whisk attachment, and mix until the liquid is well-blended. Add the whole wheat flour, mixing until it forms a batter.

Remove the whisk attachment, and fit the mixer with a dough hook. Add the white flour, bit by bit, until a soft and sticky dough is formed that just clears the sides of the mixing bowl, but still sticks to the bottom. Continue kneading with the dough hook for a few more minutes, to form supple, sticky, and well-developed dough.

Lightly oil a large bowl, and turn the dough out into it. Swish it around, then flip it over, so that the top is oiled as well. Cover the bowl, and let rise until doubled, ~1-2 hours, depending upon the temperature of the room. When risen, punch it down to deflate (I like to flip it over at this point, but it's not necessary), and let rise another half hour to an hour, until it begins to rise again. The dough can be refrigerated overnight for either of these rises -- just remove it and give it an hour to come to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.

After the dough has risen for the second time, line a baking sheet with parchment or dust it with cornmeal. Divide the dough into strands and weave it into a braid of your choosing -- you can do a standard three-strand braid, tucking the edges under, or search the internet for an ornate braiding method of your choosing (I'm currently obsessed with this foursquare braid). Brush the dough with the egg wash (a brush is best for this, but I've made do with my fingers at times), and let it rise until its increased at least by half, ~45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending upon the room temperature.

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees farenheit.

When the dough has completed its final rise, give it another brush with the egg wash (be delicate to avoid deflate all that nice rising that's just happened). Bake until the bread is burnished to a dark brown and smells done, ~30-45 minutes. Transfer to a rack, and allow to cool fully before slicing.