31 December 2008

Small pleasures

Looking out of my window, I can see feathery flakes of snow quietly shifting around in the air. Sometimes they fall straight down, sometimes not. Sometimes they like to swirl around: the arial version of tumbleweed. Sometimes they like to blow horizontally. (I can't see anything that would indicate the presence of wind--no treetops on my street reach as high as my window. So it's nice to think, at least, that the snow has a mind of its own, and goes where it pleases. The dance without a song.)


I'm glad not to be outside, I think--it got cold here, and it's so much more pleasant to be inside with the oven humming, and with the warm scent of pita bread in the oven. Yes. Pita bread! I've been making the same recipe for years now, and it works: billowing, steaming pockets of soft, pliant bread that goes so nicely with spiced chickpeas and tomato sauce, or you know, Nutella. (Is there anything that Nutella doesn't compliment? Seriously here.) But the pita--so nice! And almost effortless. If you've been relying on the tougher stuff from the grocery store, well, it's high time to make your own.

Khubz'aadi (Pita Bread), adapted from Saveur

1 packet of active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or a mixture of wheat and white
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt

1. Put yeast, sugar and 1/2 cup lukewarm water into a large bowl. (If you're not sure about the temperature of the water, run it at medium and stick your fingers under the tap. You shouldn't feel a temperature change from the water. If the water feels warm, it is too warm. Go for a neutral temperature.) Stir to dissolve, and let mixture sit until frothy, about 10-20 minutes. Add two more cups warm water and 1 cup of the flour to combine. Add two more cups of flour, one cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. Set mixture aside to rest for 10 minutes.
2. Add two tablespoons of the oil and salt and stir well to combine. Gradually add remaining flour, mixing well with your hands, until dough holds together as a ball. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about fifteen minutes. Grease a large bowl with the remaining oil Roll dough around bowl to coat, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to let rise until doubled in bulk, about two hours.
3. Place pizza stone on middle rack of oven; preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Punch down dough, turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead for two to three minutes. Divide evenly into 16 balls and cover with plastic. Roll each ball into a seven inch disc, keeping remaining dough covered. Transfer disc onto a clean, lightly floured kitchen towel (NOT terry cloth), and cover with another clean towel. Repeat process with remaining balls, laying them one inch apart in a single layer. Let rest twenty minutes.
4. Bake breads, two or three at a time, on pizza stone, until lightly golden and puffed, about three minutes per batch. Wrap hot pitas in a clean kitchen towel to keep them soft and pliable. Serve immediately.

21 December 2008

Of Latkes and Light

Yesterday I was awakened to the exceptionally familiar sound of a car whirring it's tires in order to get out of it's snowy spot. Even though I was comfortably nestled in bed, I had the urge to lean out of the window and scream that you have to shovel out the back tires if you want to get anywhere. I refrained. (Most people here don't have car shovels, anyway, so it would have been a moot point.)

I have also refrained from pelting the storefronts that have declined to shovel their walkways with the ensuing slush/ice/snow mixture that they leave there so nonchalantly, forcing us pedestrians have to navigate with what I like to call the "Midwestern Waddle" heel-toe-heel-toe, lean a little one way, lean a little the other, do your best to imitate a penguin, since they are the animals that actually live on the ice and don't slip nearly as much as their human counterparts.



Fin bref: Snow has arrived! We are already leaps and bounds ahead of last year (a good 1/2 inch at most), and just in time for Hanukkah. A good time to celebrate the light, now that we've nearly arrived at the winter solstice (which, doesn't fall, ahem, ahem, until tomorrow). And tonight we did so with subdued gusto--the first night of Menorah and latkes. Latkes! Much like hash browns. But small. And compact. And tasty! But because they make my house smell like oil, they're a once-a-year treat. No more, no less.

Over the past couple of years, Jeff and I have tried a bunch of different recipes, and this one always comes out right. (Also, I usually make a half recipe for Jeff and me, since there's really no reason to make a very large batch unless you have a lot of people around.) Not too eggy (which I cannot even stand), not to heavy, these bridge the gap between hash browns and egg, onion and potato patties. And it doesn't have that funky matzo meal grainy texture/taste that seems to be prevalent in so many versions. I suggest incorporating these into your midwinter tradition, too. Because you won't regret it.



And may your days be filled with light.

Crispy Potato Latkes, adapted from Food and Wine

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
2 medium onions
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
vegetable oil, for frying

1. Using a food processor or a box grater, coarsely shred the potatoes and onions. Transfer them to a colander and squeeze dry. In a large bowl, mix the potatoes and onions with the eggs, flour, and salt.
2. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil until shimmering, pressing lightly to flatten them. Cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until browned, about 5 minutes (the first batch takes a little longer). Reduce the heat if the latkes brown too quickly. Drain the latkes on paper towels and serve right away.

Jeff eats these with heated applesauce.

17 December 2008

Antidote

It's the last week of school before the holidays, and the girls are running amok, ants in their pants, concentration out the window. Me too, I have to admit; sometimes, walking to school in the morning, it seems like I would rather be anywhere else than heading into the drab doors of school, wandering its dark, unhappy hallways, or looking out my tinted window onto the street below.



It's the perfect time for something hot from the oven, preferably wrapped in puff pastry with silky, melded meats and vegetables. There really isn't anything quite like the feel of something hot in your hand to stave of the chill and the drab--and these glorified hot-pockets fit the bill. My mom sent me this recipe a while ago, since she knows that I have a weakness for lamb, and for pastry (she prefers not to eat too much of either), and it's just great.


Australian Meat Pies, adapted from The Chicago Tribune

1 small Yukon gold potato
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound ground lamb
1 small can crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
large pinch dried red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
1 packages all-butter puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg
1 teaspoon water

1. Finely chop potato, onion, and garlic. Set aside in seperate bowls. Mash together butter and flour.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Tumble in onion and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, cook 1 minute. Add lamb and cook, stirring, until browned, about 10 minutes.
3. Stir in potatoes and tomato. Season with cumin, red pepper, salt and black pepper. Cover, lower heat, and simmer about 30 minutes. Thicken my stirring in butter/flour mash. Add mint. Let cool.
4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out puff pastry to a rectangle, to about 14 x 16 inches. Use a pizza wheel and cut into eight rectangles, each 7 x 4 inches.
5. Scoop 1/3 cup meat mixture onto each dough rectangle. Fold dough in half to cover. (Be sure to leave a good margin around the meat, so that when you fold the dough, you have enough to seal the spaces. Do NOT over fill the rectangles, because you will regret it and you will have oozy pies.) Press edges to seal. Beat together egg and water. Brush tops of meat pies with egg wash. Cut slits into the top of the pies with a small, sharp knife, for steam. Set pies on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
6. Slide into oven and bake until golden and puffed, about 20 minutes. Cool, but not enough that you can't serve nice and toasty.

14 December 2008

Best. Donut. Ever.*


*pssssst: it's the second one from the top right.

Today, feeling as though it was too nice of a day not to step foot out of our neighborhood, Jeff and I ambled down down down to the Lower East Side, bastion of deliciousness. First stop was Prosperity Dumpling, where I enjoyed a delicious snack of dumpling goodness. I hadn't been for a while, and man are those dumplings good. So hot and juicy and spicy... the perfect antidote to a windy, chilly day.


And then we decided to go to...drumroll please... The Doughnut Plant. The Doughnut Plant is this teeny little storefront that sells fresh doughnuts, coffee, hot chocolate, and hot chai all day long. Doughnuts are made on the premises, heating the bakery deliciously, and providing tantalizing aromas of sugar and cake. If you take a look at their website, you can see that they are highly stylized, but who cares? Their doughnuts are simply divine, supple, yeasty, and really, really tasty. The last time we went, we got a cup of honeyed, deeply spiced chai and a vanilla bean glazed doughnut, but today we got not only one of those, but also a crème brûlée doughnut.

Think about that carefully. A crème. brûlé. doughnut.


It was a doughnut that was crispy caramely on the outside, having been slightly torched in order to give that sheen of a true crème brûlée, with a filling of vanilla bean crème anglaise--creamy, vanilla, full flavored, but not overly sweet. It was a brilliant doughnut, perfectly giving the illusion of everyone's favorite dessert, but in doughy form. And that doughnut part? Just like the vanilla-bean glazed one: yeasty, chewy, and impossibly light.

And perfectly delicious.

The Doughnut Plant
379 Grand St.
New York, NY 10002

10 December 2008

Remedy


Do you ever have those days when you realize way too late that your clothes are too tight and even though no one can tell except you, you start to feel more and more self conscious and more and more panicky?

Today was definitely one of those days. And the item in question was most definitely my tights, which, true to their name, are supposed to be tight, but not so much that you start to get indigestion at noon and that still hasn't gone away at a quarter to nine right? And then there's the weather; let's not put too fine a point on this, but it is December 10 and it is a whopping 60 degrees in New York. Global warming, anyone, anyone?

So what better than soup for cheer? I found this recipe a few weeks ago in an old issue of Gourmet, when I was looking for cookie frosting recipes, and it just kind of stuck in my head. All sorts of good things get thrown into the pot: pork, soy sauce, spices... add some noodles and voilà!

And it turned out just like I wanted. It's very homey, and comforting, and delicious. Just the thing when the weather's getting you down, as is a little indigestion. I have to warn you, though, that it's a little on the sweet side, though, so next time I think I'll add only two tablespoons of sugar instead of the four... and I'll also add a nice thumb of ginger. It would also be awesome with some cilantro to cut the richness of the broth.

Pork Noodle Soup with Cinnamon and Anise, adapted from Gourmet

2 pounds country-style pork ribs
5 cups water
2/3 cup soy sauce (I use the San-J Tamari Low-Sodium; it's my favorite for all my soy sauce needs)
2/3 cup medium-to-dry sherry
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
3 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
1 whole star anise
1 package bean thread (cellophane) noodles

1. Gently simmer all ingredients except noodles in a large pot, covered, skimming as needed, until pork is very tender, 1 1/2-2 hours.
2. Transfer pork to a bowl. Discard bones, spices, and garlic. Coarsly shred meat. Skim fat from broth, then return meat and bring to a simmer. Rinse noodles, then stir into broth and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until noodels are translucent and tender, about 6 minutes. Serve.

07 December 2008

Hiatus. Oops.

So I didn't make it all the way through NaBlaPoMo. Maybe next year. Thanksgiving turned out to be as hectic as usual, which in turns makes for some difficulties in the posting process. We had a good run, though, didn't we?

On the upside, though, I have so many good things to tell you about! I'll give you a few hints below...

See you soon! (Promise!)