Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Fruit crumble

I like to bake cakes, but what I really like to eat is pie. And though I'd be the first to tell you that pie Isn't That Hard to Make, sometimes (just about any evening during a hot and sticky summer) you just want dessert with the smallest amount of effort possible. This is it. You don't need any special equipment, you don't need to wait until the ingredients are the perfect temperature. Just chop, mix, bake and eat. Come to think of it, this crumble is the perfect recipe for a vacation, when you're cooking in an unfamiliar and perhaps poorly equipped kitchen. It's also perfect when you have an eager helper whose enthusiasm eclipses his coordination. It's a great stand-in for pie because the crumble has the quality of short pastry rather than the fluffiness of a biscuit topping. One evening I threw it together with some overripe peaches just as we were getting dinner on the table, and it was ready by the time the plates were cleared.

The recipe comes from Jamie Oliver, the Naked Chef, and it's everything that's best about his recipes. It highlights fresh ingredients, it's simple, and it accommodates variation and experimentation. It's just a formula, and you plug in the variables. (Pardon my unlikely math analogies.) Try it--you can't go wrong.

As you can see, my helper and I used strawberries and rhubarb, and brown sugar on the fruit. I almost always substitute half the flour with oats. I've used whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour. Some fruits might welcome a bit of lemon juice or zest, or maybe a bit of ginger or cinnamon.

Fruit Crumble
from Jamie Oliver

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, cut into small chunks
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt

1 lb. fruit, washed and prepared
3 T. sugar

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix up the crumble ingredients however you like--in a food processor, a mixer, with a spoon, or--my favorite--just rub the mixture between your fingers until the butter is evenly distributed. Put the fruit into a shallow ovenproof dish and sprinkle with the sugar. Spread the crumble over the fruit. (I like to squeeze the dough into little clumps, but that's just me.) Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden and the fruit is bubbly.

Serve with ice cream or whipped cream or yogurt (and call it breakfast).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

After school brownie muffins: The Recipe

A commenter noticed that I never posted a recipe for these muffins that I posted about way back when I started this blog (not so long ago, really). When I started, I wasn't sure I was going to include a recipe in every post. But let's face it, that's what I want when I see something that looks good--gimme the recipe so I can try it for myself! So, without further ado, I'm sending you back to the original post, now new and improved, recipe included. Click on the link below!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sponge roll with chocolate glaze

Here's a cake I hadn't tried before, but will definitely make again. Looks so fancy and complicated, but it comes together very quickly. (A little hint: even if your squabbling "helpers" distract you and you forget to add the flour to the sponge cake batter, the final result will still be edible. Next time decline "help" until the decorating stage.) The sponge cake is really just a vehicle for the filling, something to spread the chocolate on. I've got some other flavor combinations swimming about in my brain...lemon sponge with berry jam and whipped cream, something with peaches and pecans....

Anyhow, there are a lot of directions here, but don't be discouraged. Just read them through a couple of times beforehand. It's actually quite a simple procedure once you try it. The kids helped with the decorating and it still turned out pretty professional looking, so you can do it, too! (Chocolate and powdered sugar look good in any form, right?)

Sponge cake:

1/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
3 Tbsp. sifted all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
confectioner's sugar

Chocolate glaze:

6 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
3 Tbsp. prepared coffee
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. rum
1 cup chocolate shavings (use a swivel vegetable peeler to shave curls off a bar of chocolate--any kind but unsweetened--work over a piece of wax paper and refrigerate the shavings until ready to use)
confectioner's sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a jelly-roll pan (mine is 17"x11") with foil and grease it well with butter or baking spray.

With an electric mixer, beat 3 Tbsp. of sugar (reserve 1 Tbsp.) with the egg yolks at high speed until they are cream colored (about 5 minutes).  Add the flour and beat on low, just until incorporated.

In a second bowl, with clean beaters (or the whisk attachment on a stand mixer), beat the egg whites and pinch of salt until they begin to thicken. Add the reserved tablespoon of sugar, and beat until the whites hold their shape, but are not yet stiff and dry.

Fold one-third of the whites into the yolk mixture, then another third, and then the final third. Do not mix more than necessary. Quickly and gently spread the batter into the jelly-roll pan and smooth it into the corners. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly pressed with your finger.

Remove the cake from the oven and immediately sift confectioners sugar generously over the surface of the cake. Cover the cake with a long piece of wax paper, and then cover the wax paper with a cookie sheet. Holding them firmly together, flip the jelly-roll pan over onto the cookie sheet. Remove the pan and peel the foil off the bottom of the cake. Then roll the warm cake and the wax paper tightly together from the narrow end. Let the cake roll stand on the cookie sheet until cool.

While the cake is baking and cooling, make the glaze. Melt the chocolates and the coffee in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until smooth. Add the butter and stir until it is melted and completely incorporated. Remove from the heat and stir in the rum. Let it cool to room temperature.

When the cake is cool, put the pan of glaze into a larger bowl of ice water and stir constantly until it thickens slightly. Reserve 1/3 cup of glaze for the top of the cake. Unroll the sponge and spread the glaze evenly to the edges of three sides of the cake; leave an inch or so unfrosted on one narrow end. Reroll the cake (without the wax paper inside this time!), and then spread the reserved glaze over the top and sides with a small spatula. Sprinkle the chocolate shavings over the glaze (you will have to gently press them into the sides), and then refrigerate the roll for 30 minutes, or until the glaze is firm.

Remove roll from the refrigerator, transfer to a serving platter, and sift confectioner's sugar generously over the top. Serve at room temperature, birthday candles optional.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Blueberry pie

It was Father's Day, and the father of my children had wisely packed up his library book and taken the oldest two to the pool, while I stayed home with He-Who-Will-Not-Nap. It was humid and cloudy, and 80-some degrees, both in and outside the house. The air conditioning had died. And there I was in the kitchen, with all the windows open and the oven set to 400 degrees, baking a blueberry pie.

Despite the heat, there's something to be said for listening to the cardinals and sparrows calling from the backyard while rolling out a pie crust, as if time has stood still for fifty years or so. I could hear lawnmowers buzzing and a baby crying in the distance. My baby doesn't cry like that anymore--time does rush on. He was singing from his bed, with wooden trains, teddy bears, books and an assortment of dollhouse furniture scattered about him. And then he crept down the stairs, finally appearing in the kitchen to announce, "I waked up! And I need a snack."

That evening we celebrated with grilled steak, creamed spinach, and blueberry pie with ice cream. We ate our pie outside on the patio to catch the breeze. Mmmmm...summer. You're not going to get such a pie in any other season. The blueberries were juicy and jammy all at once, the crust buttery and flaky, but sturdy enough to stand up to the warm fruit filling.

I must confess to a small revelation: cutting the butter into the flour by hand (with a pastry blender) is infinitely superior to mixing it in the food processor. I seem to overmix in the food processor, and lose the flaky pockets of butter that you get from mixing more slowly with the pastry blender.

I first made this discovery a month or so ago, when I made a quiche for a weeknight dinner. The crust was puffed and layered, reminiscent of puff pastry, but without all the work. I hadn't done anything complicated or magical. I used cold butter, ice water, unbleached flour and a pinch of salt. I chilled the dough for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out. No time in the freezer, no vinegar or vodka or shortening in the recipe. Maybe you have more restraint than I do with the pulse button on the food processor. If not, try it by hand. I figure the time I spend mixing is saved by not having to wash all the nooks and crannies in the Cuisinart bowl!

Blueberry pie

2 pints fresh blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon peel

All-butter pie crust (but abandon your food processor and mix it by hand!)
heavy cream

Prepare pie crust and chill the disks of dough for at least 30 minutes. Rinse and drain blueberries, then combine with sugar, flour, lemon juice and lemon peel. Crush a few blueberries with the back of a spoon and mix with the rest of the berries. Let stand for about 15 minutes.

Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven and heat to 400 degrees. Roll out the chilled dough into two 12-inch rounds. Transfer one to a 9-inch glass pie dish. Spoon the filling into the crust. Cut the second round into 1/2-inch wide strips and arrange in a lattice on top of the filling. Press the strips into the edges of the bottom crust, trim the overhanging dough, and crimp the edges decoratively. Brush the crust lightly with heavy cream. Sprinkle on a little sparkling sugar, if desired.

Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes. Cover the the edge of the crust with aluminum foil or a pie crust shield. Bake another 15-20 minutes, until the filling is bubbling in the center and the crust is golden on top and bottom. Cool pie on rack at least 2 hours. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

What dessert says summer to you?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Farmer's Market Blueberry Muffins

Saturday morning we packed up the kids and went to our first farmer's market of the summer. I think it might have been the first time in eight years that we did not take a stroller. Another milestone. We came home with a bag of multi-colored fingerling potatoes, two big bunches of asparagus (some of which turned into this salad), and a pint of blueberries. After sampling a few (not a sour one in the bunch), I used the whole box in my favorite blueberry muffin recipe on Sunday morning.

The muffin batter is really just a means to bind the blueberries together, topped with a buttery crumb topping. These are not sturdy muffins that would survive a child's backpack; these are delicate and tender, best still warm from the oven and borne gently to the breakfast table in a basket. (I bet Dad wouldn't mind them, along with a cup of coffee and a handmade card, on his tray for Father's Day breakfast in bed.) Frozen berries will not do. Save this recipe for the best fresh blueberries you can find.

Blueberry muffins
adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/3 cup light cream or half-n-half
1 large egg
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
2 cups fresh blueberries

2 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1/3 cup flour
3 Tbsp. sugar

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease 12 muffin cups.

Melt butter in microwave or in a saucepan over low heat. Whisk in milk, egg and vanilla until well combined.

In another bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add liquid mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in the blueberries. Scoop the batter into the muffin cups.

Combine the topping ingredients in a small bowl and rub together with your fingertips until it begins to crumble and clump together. Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the muffin batter.

Bake until golden and crisp, and a wooden pick comes out clean, about 20-22 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges of each muffin and carefully remove from the cups. Serve warm.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Chocolate chip cookies: classic for a reason

I've never met a chocolate chip cookie I couldn't eat. One little circle that satisfies all your carb/sugar/chocolate cravings in a single bite. I do have preferences, though. I like them chewy and crispy. I prefer all butter. I love nuts, but haven't indulged lately, what with kid allergies and dislikes. (Perhaps I should rethink my strategy: add nuts, and the cookies would be mine...all mine....) My current favorite standard recipe is this one from (you guessed it) Smitten Kitchen. But on Sunday I received this:

So the first recipe I tried was the one for chocolate chip cookies, made with 100% whole wheat flour. It lends a subtle nuttiness, without screaming, "I'm healthy!" These definitely hit that crispy/chewy balance, and everyone loved their giant size. I made a couple adaptations to the recipe to fit my pantry (no quick runs to the store during nap time!), substituting light brown sugar for the dark, and semi-sweet chocolate chips for the bittersweet chunks. The result was excellent, but now I'm curious to taste the difference. Better quality chocolate can only be better, and I suspect that the dark brown sugar may lend a touch more moistness and depth of flavor. Today I was at the market, and made sure to pick up the missing ingredients. I guess I'll have to make them again and report back, if I don't get distracted by all the other fascinating recipes in this book. In the meantime, here's the straight-from-the-pantry version, because when you need cookies, there's no time to run to the store.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted slightly from Good to the Grain

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
8 oz. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment or Silpat. Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl.  Add the butter and sugars to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on low with the paddle attachment, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each. Mix in the vanilla.  Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl and blend on low just until combined. Scrape down the sides again, and add the chocolate chips. Mix on low for a few seconds more, then scrape the bowl one last time, making sure the chips are evenly distributed.

Scoop mounds of dough about 3 Tbsp. in size on the the baking sheet, 6 cookies to a sheet.  Bake for about 18 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through.  Remove the cookies and cool briefly on a wire rack. These are best the first day, but will keep in an airtight container for 3 days.

Wonderful note from the cookbook author:  Don't chill this dough and then try to scoop it--it's too difficult. If you don't have time to bake the entire batch, scoop all the cookies and chill the extra balls of dough in a sealed container in the refrigerator. They'll keep for a week.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sparkling sugar cookies

It's Memorial Day weekend, and I have the perfect cookie recipe for you, whether you're having a backyard BBQ, hitting the pool or beach for the first time this year, or just staying home doing laundry and watching the rain fall. (Yes, that last option is mine. But if the weather turns by Monday, we'll have some cookies to take to the pool!)

I know, I know...there are a million sugar cookie recipes. Why should you try this one? It's soft and chewy in the middle, with crispy edges and a crackled sugar top. It's not brittle or crumbly, so it's a perfect candidate for a picnic basket or a lunchbox. It does take three bowls, but you don't need a mixer. The recipe was developed by the test cooks at Cooks' Illustrated, so you know it's been engineered for success. I did adapt the instructions slightly, because my first batch did not turn out very pretty; the cookies all ran together and I had to cut them apart. By reducing the number of cookies on the baking sheet, they turned out perfectly round. And we loved the festive addition of crunchy sparkling sugar instead of regular sugar as a topping.

I was a little skeptical about the yield of this recipe--only two dozen? That's not going to last more than 48 hours in my house! But these cookies bake up into 3-inch rounds, so everyone was content with just one cookie at a time. We should have enough to get us through the weekend, whatever the weather, and maybe a couple left over for lunches on Tuesday.

Sparkling Sugar Cookies
adapted from Cooks' Illustrated

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp table salt
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 1/4 cup for rolling
2 ounces cream cheese, cut into pieces
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 Tbsp. milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

sparkling sugar for topping

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking trays with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. Place 1/4 cup sugar in a shallow dish and set aside.

In a large bowl, add 1 1/2 cups sugar and cream cheese, and then pour the warm butter over and whisk to combine. Whisk in oil, and then add egg, milk and vanilla. Whisk until smooth. Add the flour mixture and mix with a rubber spatula until the dough comes together.

Scoop the dough, about 2 tablespoons for each cookie, and roll into balls. (The dough will be very soft. Handle it quickly and gently, and don't worry about getting them perfectly round until after you've tossed them in the sugar.) Roll the balls in the reserved sugar,  and place on baking tray in staggered rows, no more than 8 per tray. Flatten balls with the bottom of a glass until 2 inches in diameter. Sprinkle tops with sparkling sugar.

Bake, one tray at a time, until edges are set and golden, 11 to 13 minutes, rotating the tray after 7 minutes. Cool cookies on the tray 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chocolate cake with white chocolate cream cheese buttercream

Almost 11 years ago, I went and made my own wedding cake, and dug myself into a hole that I will never be able to climb out of. If I can make a wedding cake, what's my excuse for not making a cake for every other occasion? Every birthday, anniversary, baby shower, graduation and First Communion. Is a homemade cake better? Absolutely. Cheaper? Positively. And when I'm piping stars on a cake at 10 o'clock at night, I remind myself that this cake is made with love to celebrate another Very Important Family Milestone, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Still, things have changed in the Home Baked kitchen since I made that wedding cake. I can't remember the last time I made an Italian meringue buttercream or soaked my cake layers in simple syrup. My current favorite cake is anything from The Cake Bible that involves reverse creaming. You get a flavorful, tender cake with a fine crumb, but it's sturdy enough that you don't need to use extraordinary measures (cardboard rounds and sessions in the freezer) to assemble the cake without disaster. Quick buttercreams or cream cheese frostings are easy and foolproof, and don't require the candy thermometer or another dozen eggs.

This past weekend we celebrated Eight's First Communion with family and friends, so I made the Perfect All-American Chocolate Butter Cake. I like that it's a cocoa cake--a whole lot cheaper than chocolate bars--and that even though it calls for cake flour, you can easily substitute all-purpose flour plus corn starch. I frosted it with White Chocolate Cream Cheese buttercream, which is rich, tangy, silky and very easy to make. I usually avoid anything with white chocolate--too sweet!--but mixed with cream cheese it achieves the perfect balance. I love the contrast of the tangy sweet buttercream with the chocolate cake, but it would be delicious on almost any cake I can imagine (mmm...carrot cake, I'm thinking of you).

I kept the decoration simple (and fast!), setting aside about a cup of buttercream to tint for piping. I used a small star tip to create the cross (which I first outlined with a toothpick so it would be centered), and continued with the same tip to make a shell border.

All-American Chocolate Butter Cake
from The Cake Bible

1/2 cup plus 3 Tbsp. unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 cup boiling water
3 large eggs
2 1/4 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
5 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two 9-inch cake pans with wax or parchment paper, then grease and flour (or use baking spray).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa and boiling water. Cool to room temperature. In another bowl, combine the eggs, 1/4 of the cocoa mixture, and vanilla.

In the large bowl of the mixer, combine the remaining dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and remaining cocoa mixture. Mix on low until moistened, and then beat on medium speed (high on a hand mixer) for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg mixture in three batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the cakes on a rack for 10 minutes before loosening the sides with a small knife and inverting them onto the cooling rack. When the cake layers are completely cool, wrap them airtight in plastic wrap until you are ready to frost them.

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream

9 ounces white chocolate (bars, NOT chips, which do not have cocoa butter)
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Melt the white chocolate in the top of a double boiler on low heat, stirring frequently, or in the microwave. (My microwave has a "Melt" setting, which works perfectly. Otherwise, use short bursts on low power and remove before all the chocolate is melted--just continue to stir it until it is completely smooth.) Let cool to room temperature.

In the mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the cooled chocolate, and then beat in the butter and lemon juice.

This buttercream becomes solid when chilled, so you can refrigerate it and use it later, but you will have to let it warm to room temperature and beat it smooth again. If it seems too warm to pipe, I prefer to set the bowl in another bowl of ice water and whisk until it stiffens slightly.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Best salted brown butter shortbread

I had a little shortbread craving the other day, but my brain linked "brown butter" to the shortbread idea, probably courtesy of this post from Smitten Kitchen. I almost made that shortbread recipe, but for the many comments from readers whose attempts were less than stellar. So I did some research, which led me down a path from Epicurious to King Arthur Flour, and finally to a Cooks' Illustrated recipe for Best Shortbread. Well, that's what I wanted, the BEST shortbread, but made with brown butter and sea salt. So I mixed the Smitten Kitchen recipe with the CI technique of reverse creaming the butter, and this mash up is the result. It's a recipe with a few more steps than I'm usually willing to take, but I found it more than worth the effort. As with many things in life, being the best takes a little more work.

Brown butter
The brown butter and brown sugar give this shortbread a caramel perfume and the sea salt is a delicate--and addictive--contrast. I've been hiding the cookie tin from the kids. How could I waste all that time, effort, subtle sophistication and butter on such undiscriminating palates?

A couple of notes: Don't leave your butter as it's browning. If you're a better planner than I am, you'll take 10 minutes to brown the butter the day before and chill it overnight. I just stick the bowl in the freezer. So be forewarned that you need to do that step at least an hour before you're ready to mix and bake. And before you start, set out a bowl to pour the butter in, and perhaps a fine mesh strainer to strain out the too-dark butter solids. Finally, stir, stir, stir.
Ground oats

12 Tbsp. butter
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tsp. coarsely ground sea salt

Set out a medium bowl and a fine mesh strainer. Cut butter into chunks and heat in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, stir continually until the flecks on the bottom of the pan turn brown and the butter is the color of tea. Pour the brown butter through the strainer into the bowl. Chill until very firm, about two hours in the refrigerator.

Grind the oats in a coffee or spice grinder (or food processor) until they become a fine powder. Pour the ground oats and the rest of the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low for 30 seconds or until the dry ingredients are completely mixed. With a metal spoon, scoop the hardened butter into the mixing bowl. Mix on low for 5 minutes, or until the dough begins to come together and pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Cold brown butter added to dry ingredients

Press the dough together on a sheet of wax or parchment paper and roll it into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Roll the log up in the paper and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. With a very sharp knife, slice the dough into 1/2-in thick cookies and bake on a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet for 5 minutes. Turn the oven down to 250 degrees and bake 6 minutes more, or until just golden around the edges. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and poke holes in each cookie with a skewer or a fork. Turn the oven off, but return the cookies to the oven and prop the door open with the handle of a wooden spoon. Leave in the oven for 30 minutes to dry out.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and cool the cookies completely on a wire rack. Yields 2 doz. cookies.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ali Baa Baa sandwiches in homemade pita

Friends, I am back! My poor laptop needed a new hard drive, the Easter Bunny has come and gone, and I've pledged to get back to a regular blogging schedule.

So I bring you a family favorite, a recipe invented by my father to use up leftover leg of lamb. (We always said he should submit the recipe to Gourmet magazine. Alas, Gourmet is no more, so I will give it its public debut here on Home Baked.) As this is the week after Easter, there was a big chunk of garlicky leg of lamb waiting in our fridge. Dice up the lamb, add some apples and onions, a scattering of Middle Eastern spices (hence, the name), a dollop of cool Greek yogurt--pile it all in a warm pita and serve with a salad. This is a wonderful quick weeknight meal, and the kids, who eyed the lamb suspiciously on Easter Sunday, ate it on its second appearance so quickly I had to slice some more lamb to add to the pan. No doubt my version is not exactly the same as the original (which may have included some curry powder), but this is one of those adaptable, use-what-you-have recipes.

But let's start with the pita. As I suspected, no-knead dough is ideal for pita, so I got out my trusty copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and fiddled slightly with the recipe. (But only very slightly.) I chose the whole wheat flour variation for depth of flavor, and, you know, as a nod to healthy eating. (Let's not talk about the mysterious disappearance of all the leftover Easter cupcakes.) I mixed up one batch of dough mid-morning, refrigerated it until late afternoon, and then scooped out about 1/3 of the cold dough to make 6 individual pitas. The entire rolling and baking process took about 20 minutes, and I managed it while supervising homework. Easy, easy. The results: "Just like storebought. And that's a compliment."

adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 T. active dry yeast
1 T. Kosher salt
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
5 cups unbleached all purpose flour

Mix everything in a large lidded container until the flour is completely incorporated. You may need to use wet hands to mix in the last of the flour. Cover, but do not seal, the container and let rest on the counter for 2 hours. Transfer the container (still covered but unsealed) to the refrigerator until ready to use. Use the dough within 14 days.

Heat the oven with a baking stone inside to 500 degrees. For 4 individual pitas, dust 1/4 of the dough in the container with flour and scoop it out. Quickly shape into a ball by gently stretching the the surface and tucking it to the underside. Dust with a little more flour and cut the ball of dough into 4 equal pieces. On a floured surface, pat each piece into a round and roll into a circle about 1/8 inch thick.

Turn on the exhaust fan (some of the flour on the baking stone will burn and set off your smoke alarm--be prepared!) and slide two pitas onto the stone. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until puffed and starting to brown. Wrap the warm pita in a clean dish towel and let it cool on a rack. They will deflate slightly while cooling, but the pocket inside will remain. Bake the rest of the pitas, two at a time. An entire batch of dough should make 16 pitas; bake some now and some in the next 2 weeks, or bake them all now and store them in an airtight bag in the freezer. Warm frozen pita in the oven, wrapped in foil.

Ali Baa Baa Sandwiches

1 lb. cooked lamb, diced finely (if you're starting from scratch, you could use ground lamb, browned and drained--in that case, add some garlic)
1 apple, diced
1 medium onion, sliced
olive oil for the pan
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
salt and pepper
Greek yogurt (or sour cream)

Brown the onions in a little olive oil over medium-high heat. When they start to get translucent, add the diced apple. When the apple begins to brown and soften, add the diced lamb (or you can remove the apples and onions and set aside, so that picky eaters can have their meat all by itself). Add the spices to the lamb and heat until the meat is hot and begins to sizzle.

If you are serving this right away, go ahead and stir in a good spoonful or two of yogurt into the lamb mixture. But if everyone isn't gathered at the table all at once, leave the yogurt out and let each person add a dollop to their own sandwich. Cut warm pita in half, fill each half with the lamb and yogurt, and serve with a big salad. There shouldn't be any more leftovers!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Korean chicken wings

Sorry for the long radio silence, folks. Last week was Spring Break, and we drove all the way to New York to visit family and friends and see the sights. And eat. And eat, and eat some more. Nothing fancy, just the very best burger and fries EVER at the Shake Shack in NYC (I'm fairly certain the Shake Stack is the best thing I've ever eaten on a bun), lunch at a Japanese grocery in New Jersey, and some takeout wings from Bonchon. The wings were for the kids--the adults were having sushi--but we managed to snag a few from their greasy little hands. They are shatteringly crispy, sweet, salty, garlicky and completely addictive.

When we returned home, I found a giant bag (nearly seven pounds!) of chicken wings on sale and took it as a Sign from the Kitchen Gods. I cruised the internet for recipes, watched grainy YouTube videos of deep frying chicken, and took the plunge. To be fair, my attempt was not exactly the same as Bonchon, but it was still really, REALLY good. My taste testers asked if we could have "Momchon" wings every day. The post-frying kitchen clean up is not on my daily to-do list. But I will certainly make them again soon (there must be four pounds of wings left in the freezer), experimenting once again with the sauce. I won't change the technique, though I'd like to try rice flour instead of the flour/cornstarch mixture. And next time I'll hunt down some of the special Korean bean paste that is the base for the spicy version of the sauce.

Momchon Chicken
Marinating wings

15 chicken wings, tips cut off, and cut in half at the joint (30 pieces)
1/2 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup flour
2/3 cup cornstarch
salt and pepper


5 cloves garlic, chopped
2-inch piece peeled ginger, chopped
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 T. rice vinegar
2 T. honey
1 T. Asian sesame oil

After the first fry
Grate or mince 1/2 an onion. Add 2 cloves garlic, minced, salt and pepper. Toss chicken wings in this mixture to coat; marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour. (I used a covered bowl, but a plastic freezer bag is also perfect.)

Mix up the sauce and bring it to a simmer in a small saucepan. Let it simmer gently for about 5 minutes. If you make it ahead, just warm it again as you're frying the wings.

Heat oil in a heavy, deep pot until it reaches 350 degrees.

Mix the flour, cornstarch, salt and pepper in a bowl or zippered freezer bag. Toss the marinated wings into the flour until completely coated. When the oil is at 350, add 1/3 of the wings to the pot and deep fry for about 5 minutes, until golden. Pay attention to the temperature and don't let it go above 350! Remove from the oil and let drain on a rack or paper towels. When the oil comes back up to temperature, fry the next batch. When all the wings have been fried once, bring the oil back up to temperature and fry them in batches again for 4-5 minutes.  Drain on a rack or paper towels, and immediately brush with the warm sauce.