Monday, January 31, 2011

First tries...

A weekend off...much like the day off, I plan days ahead about what I'd like to cook or bake.  It hit me huge this past weekend, having all that time on my hands, just how much cooking and/or baking really does an amazing job of quieting my mind.  Better than therapy.  And free...well, save for any ingredients that need to be purchased.

Pan de Higo....according to the lovely folk at The Gilded Fork, is Spanish in origin...a flourless  'cake' of figs and almonds.  I was introduced to it by a friend a few months ago, paired with olives and a good aged Parmesan...I was instantly in love...chewy, nutty, figgy, spices playing on the tongue...I vowed to give it a try instead of paying a lot of money for it at Whole Foods.  (Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Whole's a great big candy store of fun for me...but financially,  not a good idea.)  Upon finding both the Gilded Fork's recipe and a slightly altered version here, I decided that the weekend off was the time to try it. I had everything I needed.  Well, except for brandy.  Happily enough, I knew that BevMo! carried an extensive collection of a Friday night visit after work, $4.00 plunked down on the counter, one tiny bottle of Remy Martin in my purse later and Pan de Higo could be made!

I used a 14 oz. package dried figs...since they were crystallizing, I soaked them in warm water for a few minutes to soften them (when you mix your ingredients, don't forget to squeeze as much water from them as possible)...also adding two ounces of dried Mission figs which were much softer.  I substituted most of the almonds for almond meal, but used about 1/4 cup of roughly chopped toasted almonds...not having a food processor lead me to using my trusty pastry worked well...and works out your arm to boot. I divvied up the mix into a muffin pan and made a small loaf.  I let it set for 3 days.  Pleased with the results, but on the next try I'm going to stick to using moister dried figs, because it's not as dry as I would like and I think soaking them definitely contributed to it.  That also lead to me using only 1 tbsp of brandy to bring it all together.  I will tell you, the Pan de Higo paired beautifully with Asiago...AND even went well with a thin smear of cream cheese atop my addictive thin Wasa.

Pan de Higo
(adapted from The Gilded Fork and Apple Pie, Patis & Pate)

1 pound dried figs
1/2 cup almond meal
1/4 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon anise seeds
1 tablespoon honey
pinch of cinnamon
2-3 tablespoons of brandy

Chop the figs into small pieces, removing the stems.  Toast almonds and almond meal for about 5 minutes.  Toss all ingredients, except for brandy, in mixing bowl.  Using the pastry blender, mix and mince until you have the consistency of a rough paste.  Make sure all the ingredients are being incorporated.  It's a matter of working it all together.  Like a fig dough.  Feel free to use your hands to really mix it well.  Add the brandy, tablespoon by tablespoon, as needed.  Once it's all mixed into a dough-like consistency, you can either spoon it into a muffin pan to make little cake forms or roll it into loaves.  I like the serving size of the muffin pan.  Flatten the mix into each portion.  Cover and set in a cool, dry place for 2-3 days.  It gives the mixture a chance to mingle and mellow out.  To remove from muffin pan, run the tip of knife along the edge to loosen from the mold.  I used an angled icing knife which worked like a charm.  

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Other Side...

My heritage is not 100% Italian...I'm half-Italian and half-Polish.  I was perusing the cookbook collection last week and found 'Polish Cookery'.  I've had it for a some time, though honestly, had never really done much more than flip through it.  Over the years, all I remember attempting in Polish cuisine was galumki (galumpki, galobki, et al...).  That's stuffed cabbage for those who don't know...some (thanks, Tim!) even call it 'pigs in a blanket.'

The inspiration was the head of cabbage in the fridge that I knew I should do something with before it spoiled.  The mental grocery checklist in my head ticked off the remaining ingredients (meat, rice, tomatoes).  Yup...had them all.  With a weekend off, it was a go.  I don't remember if it was all that time-consuming when mom used to make it or my last go at it.  After Sunday, I can tell you that you just have a lot going on at once, with 3 burners fired up in prep.  But absolutely worth it.  It's not difficult.

Mom always made it with ground beef and white rice.  I switched it out with ground turkey and brown rice.  I don't know how authentic mine was this time around, but it tasted fantastic and after spending time in the kitchen, isn't the what the end result should be?

Galumpki (adapted from mom)

1 lb ground turkey
half small white onion
half bell pepper
1 cup brown rice
1 head cabbage
1 can tomato soup
1 tbsp olive oil

Chop both the onion and bell pepper and saute in olive oil until softened, about 5 minutes.  Brown ground turkey and season as you like.  I kept it simple with black pepper and a touch of salt.  Slice the bottom core off the head of cabbage and carefully peel off the leaves.  Keep them as whole as possible.  I steamed them for a few minutes.  Prepare the rice as directed.  When onions, peppers, turkey and rice are ready, mix together.  Season again as you like.  I sprinkled the mix with Magic Dust ( my sister sent me a container of this a couple of years ago for Christmas and I use it on everything.  It's addictive and utterly indispensable in my kitchen.)  Combine well and grab a cabbage leaf.  Spoon a couple of tablespoons into the center of the leaf.  Carefully roll cabbage leaf closed and place seam-down in a deep skillet where you've added the can of tomato soup thinned with about half a can of water.  Repeat with the remaining cabbage leaves.  Place them as close to each other as possible.  Spoon the tomato soup atop the rolls and bring to a slow simmer.  I let them cook for about 20 minutes, basting them with soup every 5 minutes or so.

As I said...authentic?...I don't know...but I was more than pleased...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Buon Appetito!

Pizza.  If anyone says they don't like pizza, my Italian heritage mentally takes note to leave a wide berth when near them.  But really.  So many debates...thin crust, thick crust, red sauce, white sauce, no sauce.  And toppings?  Well, in my mind, you can put whatever you want on may not work for everyone...but hey, isn't that what makes cooking so much fun?

I've been craving pizza for about a month now.  It always seemed to be especially strong on nights when I got home late, so the thought of having to make the dough and wait for it to rise wasn't all that appealing.  Sleep does win out most nights.

Then the other day I found myself on Melinda Lee's website.  For those that don't know who she is, on one of the Los Angeles news radio channels, KNX 1070, she hosts a show called 'Food News' every Saturday and Sunday morning.  Surprise, surprise I listen to it every chance I get.  I was checking out this week's topics (mise en place and kitchen fundamentals) then began perusing the recipe collection.

Lo and Behold!...what did I find but a no-rise pizza crust dough recipe!  Just what I was looking for, though I knew it wasn't going to be a typical crust.  No problem.  The recipe makes enough for a 12-inch pizza, but I split the dough in half.  I can make another before week's end!  I rolled it out thin, be careful when transferring it to the baking sheet, it will break easily.  I actually had to roll it out twice to make it safely to my sheet.  As per the directions, I did roll it on a board with a flour/cornmeal mix.  I had coarse medium ground cornmeal, and a significant amount works its way into the crust, giving it a really nice bite (in my opinion).  It's a good, quick crust.  More cracker-y than dough-y.

Last night's topping was caramelized onions and portobello mushrooms with roasted red pepper and garlic.  Then for good measure, I poured in about half a cup of red wine (still left from the holiday's wine biscuits!) and sauteed it down.  I crumbled some feta and grated Grana Padano atop before baking.  Into a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

AND since I'm determined to lose the last 31 lbs to get to my goal weight by the end of this year, to keep myself from eating the whole thing, I paired it with a spinach salad (yes, with a little chopped walnuts and feta---protein, kids, protein!)

Here's the crust recipe....but if you have a chance, check out Melinda Lee's website....lots of recipes and other fun stuff!

Non-Rising (Shortcut) Pizza Dough

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup olive oil
handful of flour and cornmeal mix (about 1/4 cup of each)

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl.  Add the water and drizzle in the oil.  Mix thoroughly.

Sprinkle a cutting board with the flour and cornmeal mixture and place dough on it.  Knead for 3 or 4 minutes, forming a ball, and roll out into a 1/8-inch thick circle.  Crimp the edges and fill with your favourite ingredients.

Bake or grill according to the recipe instructions.

(Adapted from Fish Grilled and Smoked by John Manikowski from Storey Publishing)

Try it...I think you'll like it.  Quick and easy...always a good thing!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Thanks, Mom...

You know when you were growing up and every now and again you thought to yourself...'I'll NEVER do that when I'm older!' Right...okay...let's fast-forward a couple of decades...AND here we are...I remember when I was growing up my mom was always bringing home something new and exciting from the grocery cereal, new Kool-Aid flavour, whatever.....there it was....from pantry.

A product of good marketing.  I think if anything new jumped out at her, it fell into the cart.  Let me sheepishly raise my hand and admit to the same.  I Am A Product of Marketing.   It's even better if the item's on sale AND I have a coupon (Hallelujah! if there are double coupons).  I have to give it to Mom...she's done it the last care package (The Christmas Edition), tucked sweetly between the Ferrero Rocher and wedges of aged Asiago cheese...a box of know, the vaguely cardboard-ish Swedish flatbread....don't get me wrong...I love Wasa...but this was no ordinary was 'thin and crispy.' Nice!...and sesame...Score!

I had a jar of peanut butter and thin Wasa....a smooth swath of peanut butter on my crispy bread and I had a few minutes of peanut-y bliss and a VERY large glass of milk.  Now comes trouble...I usually eschew spendy crackers...(unless aforementioned coupon is in my possession).  Next time I find myself in the neighbourhood grocery store, I have to search out the cracker aisle and see if they carry my new discovery.  Let's hope it's on sale.

Thanks, Mom....maybe I can put in a request for the next care package....

Saturday, January 8, 2011

2011...what's ahead?

Don't you wish you could peer into the future and see what's ahead for the year?...sometimes I do, sometimes I don't...but I've been thinking about a couple of things I'd like to get around to this no particular order and nothing necessarily ground-breaking:

1.  Cook simple--I don't see myself as a fancy cook...I do like simple, rustic, just good food.  Maybe this year, I'll tweak with tastes, combinations...who know?'s fluid, nebulous and you'll see the results here

2.  Good knives--I had good knives that I left in my previous relationship.  I don't know why I did that.  Not a bright move.  But for Christmas, I received a Wusthof 6-in chef's knife and I'm embarrassed to tell you that it puts EVERY knife in my drawer to shame.  That they are even called 'knives' is an embarrassment to the mere definition.  I feel like King Arthur with Excalibur.  I'd like to add a sibling to my Excalibur.

3.  Baking and breaking bread--this is a continuing challenge for me.  The results have been okay, not bad, edible...but it's really a skill I want to hone.

4.  Better budgeting--I can spend a lot of money on groceries.  Sometimes I forget I'm cooking for one...on occasion, two...rarely for more.  I vowed to myself that this is the year to get my financial ass in order and be more frugal and responsible.  I can easily spend $50 on groceries for a two-week period and when you think about it, that's kind of crazy.  My Italian Pantry is stocked, hell, following the advice of a friend, it's time to rein it in.  I did my grocery shopping last night.  I spent $16...I need eggs...add $2 more before the end of the weekend.  Now I have to keep it up!

...not a bad start...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I know it's not food-related...

...but if there are two things I absolutely abhor in life, it's animals and kids in pain...

...this is beyond's the blog post...and if you can spare anything...a site for donating...