Friday, March 26, 2010

Homemade Pitas Bread

There are a few things that I almost NEVER buy from the grocery store anymore. Pita Bread is one of them . The store bought pitas are tough and flavorless and go stale far too quickly. They just aren't worth the money or calories that you spend on them.

If you have just a little time and a tiny bit of bread making experience you can make tasty Pitas and impress your friends who'll think you spent days in the kitchen.

You'll need:
3 cups Flour (All Purpose works well but 1/2 Whole Wheat and 1/2 All Purpose makes a tastier Pita)
1 Tablespoon Honey or Sugar
1 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
2 Teaspoons Instant Yeast (or 1 packet)
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil (or Vege Oil, or Butter, or Shortening)
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 Cups Room Temp Water

1. Mix the Flour, Sugar, Salt, and Yeast together in a bowl.

2. Add Olive Oil, 1 1/4 Cups of Water, and stir together with a wooden spoon. It should form a ball. If all of the flour doesn't stick to the ball, add a bit more water 1 tablespoon at a time.

3. Once it forms a ball, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for approximately 10 minutes. I used my Kitchenaid with a dough hook for 10 minutes on low.

I've never used the mixer before to knead Pitas and threw away my 1st batch before I realized that it was supposed to look like a gooey mess. I turned the 2nd batch out and kneaded it twice with flour and it formed a ball. I still feel pretty dumb.

4. Once you've kneaded the dough for 10 minutes (or until your hands get super tired, whichever comes first), pour 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a bowl and use your fingers to rub it on the walls. Place your dough in the bowl and turn upside down to make sure it is coated with oil on all sides.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a wet cloth for 90 minutes or until it has doubled in size.

5. After it has doubled, punch it down and divide it into 8 equal sized balls. Cover them with a damp dish towel and let rest for 20 minutes or so.

While you are letting these rest, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven before you preheat. If you don't use a baking sheet turned upside down. I have a baking stone but have always used a baking sheet. I like it that way.

6. After the dough has relaxed for 20 minutes or so, place one ball on a floured surface and use a rolling pin to roll it as thin as you can. You are looking for the pitas to be between 1/4 and 1/8 of an inch thick. If they will not stretch enough and keep springing back, cover it with a damp cloth and let the dough rest for a few more minutes.

7. Place as many pitas as you can on your hot baking surface.

They should puff up and be baked through in approximately 3 minutes. We kept forgetting to take pics so the before and after pictures are not from the same batch. They also puff quite a bit more than this but we were so excited to eat them, we forgot to take pictures of the final puff in the oven.

The final products are absolutely tasty and wonderful. I like them hot with a bit of butter. Chris likes them with hummus. Either way, they are so much better than store bought.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cake outside if its natural habitat

I've always been weary of Angel Food Cake.

Seriously, who can trust a cake that almost never has frosting? I'm drooling just thinking about it.

I can eat it with my fingers.

Buttercream frosting. Cream Cheese frosting. Vanilla frosting. Chocolate frosting. Caramel frosting. Ganache. Icing. Whatever you call it, I call it heavenly. Hell, I will even eat that crappy whipped greasy frosting that comes on store bought cakes if its in the same time zone.

Angel Food cake just seems so unnatural. I mean isn't cake's primary function to be a vehicle for the yummy goodness of frosting?

While it goes against my better judgment to make Angel Food cake it is Chris' favorite. AND since it was his birthday this week. AND since it's not terribly bad for you, I made the unholiest of all the cakes. Its not as difficult as it looks. This is Alton Brown's recipe and the easiest we've made.

You'll need: 1 3/4 cups super fine Sugar (if you don't have or can't find super fine, run your sugar through the food processor for about 2 minutes or so)
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1 cup Cake Flour, sifted
12 Egg Whites (as close to room temp as possible)
1/3 cup Warm Water
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract (You can use any extract you have on hand)
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350.

Step 2. Separate your eggs. You only need the whites. I always feel so wasteful just throwing away the yolks. If you can think of a use for 12 egg yolks, I'd love to hear it. An all yolk omelet just sounds disgusting.

Step 3: Sift 1 cup sugar with the cake flour and the salt. Set aside.

Step 4: In your mixer bowl, whisk together the egg whites, water, extract, and cream of tartar for about 2 minutes. You are looking to loosen up the eggs and make them a bit foamy.Step 5: Move to your mixer and, beating continuously at medium speed, slowly spoon in the remaining sugar. You want to get to medium peaks, (The egg whites should look smooth, moist, and shiny. When you lift up your beaters, you should have peaks that stand up)Slowly sift enough of the flour mixture to dust the top of the foam. Use a spatula to fold in gently. Continue until all of the flour mixture is incorporated.

Step 6: Carefully spoon into an ungreased tube pan.Step 7: Bake for 35 minutes before you check for doneness with a wooden skewer. It should come out dry.

Step 8: THIS IS IMPORTANT! Cool UPSIDE DOWN for an hour. If you have a pan that has a bottom that comes off, make sure you support the middle with a glass or a bowl. If you don't cool upside down, it will collapse.
Serve with fruit and whipped cream for best results.
The results are so much different than store bought cake. This is moist and light and really really tasty (even without frosting). I'm still not a big fan of Angel Food Cake but if I have to have a delicious fat free, frosting deficient cake this is an excellent choice.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

So, there are a couple of things that we cook over and over again. This marinated chicken is one of them. It's our go-to meal of choice. Pair it with some grilled asparagus and potatoes (this time purple potatoes) and it is magnificent. We 1st ate it at our friend's house (Shawn and Jenn) and we begged them for the recipe right there and then. I've made a couple of minor adjustments but its basically the same. We always make twice as much as we need just for the AWESOME leftovers.

Grilled Chicken

The marinade is really simple
You'll need:
4 medium chicken breasts
1/4 cup Soy Sauce
3 tablespoon Ketchup
2+ cloves of Garlic peeled and crushed(I use a couple of shakes of garlic powder if I don't have any fresh)
1/4 cup Oil (canola, vegetable, or olive, I've used them all)
1 tablespoon Brown Sugar
All of this is really to taste. When Chris makes it, he uses more soy and garlic. When I make it, I use more ketchup and sugar. Both ways are totally delicious and worth eating.

The night before you plan to grill, clean the chicken and place in a container with the marinade. Swish it around so everything is covered and place it in the fridge. This time I was waiting on the chicken to thaw overnight so I attempted to use the Seal-a-Meal to force marinade into the chicken about 4 hours before we grilled. Don't do this.

While it was still good, it wasn't what it could be. The chicken was flavored on the outside but the inside wasn't as moist and delicious as I wanted it to be. When done correctly, this is the juiciest chicken on the planet.

Bring the chicken to room temp about 10 minutes before you throw it on the grill. Watch the flame on the grill to make sure they breasts don't get black. The sugar in the marinade, from both the ketchup and the brown sugar, will blacken this pretty quickly if you aren't paying attention. Use a thermometer and cook on the grill until the internal temp reaches 160 degrees.

Grilled AsparagusYou'll need:
1 lb Asparagus trimmed and washed
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
Couple of shakes of Garlic Powder
Salt and Pepper to taste
Toss the asparagus with the oil, garlic, salt, & pepper. Place on grill pan. Grill until its the tenderness that you like. Chris likes them kind of charred and wrinkly. I like them crisp tender. He controls the grill and outside cooking so you can guess how often I get them nice and green. Usually they are blackened and closer to ash. I suspect he does that so he can eat more of them.

I don't appreciate his ruse.

Yes. It is that simple. It takes about 20 seconds and if you are grilling anyway, just keep an eye on it and take it off when its as black or done as you like them. Its healthy easy food that doesn't come out of a can or a freezer.

I've wanted to try green beans this way too. That sounds totally tasty. I can't wait for farmer's market season.

Purple Smashed Potatoes

I have to hand it to the Winchester Farmers Market. That place has some cool stuff. These were so neat. I'd tasted purple potatoes at Disney's Brown Derby years ago but hadn't ever seen them in Memphis. They're sweeter than white potatoes but not nearly as sweet as sweet potatoes.

These were so small so I didn't bother cutting or peeling them. I just washed them and threw them in a pot with water.

They're done when you can easily stick a fork in them. They lighten up a bit after boiling and the water gets a bit darker than it would with white taters.

Drain them and put them in a smaller pot for the smashing. Add butter, milk and salt and you have one heck of a side dish.
Though they were cool, I wasn't a huge fan of these smashed potatoes. That being said, Chris and the kid LOVED them. They were too sweet for my liking and the skins were tougher than I wanted them to be. I kept salting them and salting them to get them to taste right but, honestly, there is really nothing really right about a purple potato.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Buttermilk Biscuits

These are my absolute favorite comfort food. It took me until I was about 30 years old before I got it right. My mom still makes them better but I come a close 2nd. Long gone are the days of hard little biscuity bricks. These aren't light and flaky biscuits but they sure are satisfying.

3 tablespoons shortening (plain or butter flavored)
2 cups flour sifted
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Step 1: Preheat oven to 450-500 degrees
Step 2: Add dry ingredients to the shortening and cut in with a fork.It should end up looking like course corn mealStep 3: Add enough butter milk to make everything wet. You don't want puddles- just enough to make everything stick together.
Work this as little as possible. The less you work it, the more tender the biscuits.
This is the part that always made me hate making biscuits. I wanted a measurement but it differs each time. I also wanted to work it like bread dough but that makes rock-like biscuits.

Step 4: Walk away. Give the flour enough time to absorb the buttermilk. Go cook something else but, whatever you do, don't touch this for 15-20 minutes.

Step 5: Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. I generally just use a clean counter top. Add flour to the dough and pat it to about 3/4 to 1 in thickYou can use a rolling pin but its really not necessary. It takes longer to clean the rolling pin in my opinion and my hands work just as well.

Cut the biscuits out.
Place on a silpat or parchment paper
Place in the oven until brown. About 20 minutes or so.

Spread with butter or jam and enjoy. I especially like these re-heated in the oven the next morning for breakfast. Just spread with butter and toast in the oven until warm. So tasty!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rice Cake?

Another item from the Winchester Farmers Market.

While searching for the Inari pockets that Chris likes so much, I was browsing through the cooler section at the Market. I came across this:What is it? Why is it so fancy? It reminded me of a funeral urn for some reason. For $3.99, I really couldn't pass it up. I mean, seriously, it looks kind of cool and whatever is in it must be AMAZING, right?


After closer examination, there was a tiny sticker on the bottom:
Rice. Sugar. Water. It passed the 1st test of being safe for the kid. I figured it must be like dessert. I was looking forward to trying this. I'm not usually this adventurous but this golden treasure was really intriguing.

After dinner last night and almost burning the house down, I wasn't in the mood to open it. Chris made pudding for dessert and I was enjoying every bit of that when he asked if he could open my golden mystery container. I thought about it for a minute and made him trade me his pudding for it. Double pudding beats crazy rice cake any day.

I gathered Grunty Gus up and shuffled to the kitchen to watch the unveiling.

Wow. I was immediately thankful for bartering this thing away and headed straight to the fridge before Chris could change his mind. It looked like a beige hockey puck.
Surprisingly, it also had the consistency of a beige hockey puck. I started giggling and Chris was trying to figure out exactly how to taste this thing. The spoon barely dented it and he started grumbling under his breath about his pudding, I moved to the other side of the kitchen.

He was really regretting this decision about now:
It really took WAY too much effort to shove the spoon in this thing.

He finally pried out a piece to taste. Maybe a big bite wasn't that bright of an idea.
At this point I was giggling uncontrollably.

I'm pretty sure that's the last time I get Chris' pudding in exchange for crazy asian food.

In retrospect, we probably should have researched rice cakes on the internet. I'm glad we didn't since it ended up being so funny but there is, apparently, a use for this stuff in legitimate cooking.