Monday, July 27, 2009

Fun with Phyllo Dough

Greek food is delicious and perfect for summer.

This is a quick and easy spanakopita recipe...

10 -14 sheets Phyllo Dough
8 oz Feta
3 Eggs
Olive Oil (a generous amount)

Layer phyllo dough, brushing with oil (I recommend 5-7 layers). Mix feta (about half a pound) with three eggs. Stir in spinach (if you are using frozen spinach, thaw it first, if you are using fresh spinach, cook it first). Pour mixture over bottom phyllo sheets. Add top sheets (brushing with oil, of course). Cook at 350 until the top is golden brown (about 30 min).

Honey-Cinnamon Puffs
One problem with cooking with phyllo dough is that you always end up with a lot of leftover... What better to do than make dessert? In an earlier entry, we introduced you to mockla. Here is another delectable (and slightly lighter) option.

Phyllo dough, in long strips

Mix honey (amount depends on how many puffs you are making, but start with 1/4 cup) and cinnamon to taste. Take three long strips of phyllo dough, layer, brushing generously with butter. Fold in half. Spread honey mixture over phyllo dough. Keep it pretty thin for a more delicate taste. Fold down top and bottom (the long sides) and roll. Brush top with butter. Repeat until you have used all your phyllo dough (or have made as many as you want...). Bake at 350 until golden.

And, if you are still looking for something to do with all that phyllo dough, I highly recommend this recent Leek and Yogurt Pie recipe from the New York Times.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

White bean and tomato salad

A light but filling summer salad-- eat with some sort of bread product and maybe some fresh fruit for dessert.  Use good quality tomatoes, please!

White Bean and Tomato Salad

Serves 2-3.


2 cups cooked navy (or other white) beans (1 can or 1/2 cup dry beans, cooked), cooled
2 beefsteak or 4 roma tomatoes
2 sprigs fresh oregano (about a tablespoon)
1 sprig fresh mint (about 1/2 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
dash of salt


Cook your beans if they aren't already cooked, drain, and allow to come to room temperature.
Chop tomatoes coarsely.
Chop herbs coarsely.
Toss both with beans in large bowl.
Drizzle with olive oil, then lemon juice, toss to combine.
Add salt to taste.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Potato Gnocchi

Yep, I can't say that word, but it sure is tasty.  And relatively easy to make!  I always make a lot and then freeze it.  Serve with a bit of oil, chopped tomatoes and some herbs...or with pesto...or tomato sauce...or, my favorite, with lightly-cooked kale and tons of cheese.

Potato Gnocchi

2 potatoes, scrubbed clean
Splash of olive oil
Splash of water
2 c unbleached white flour
1/2 t salt

Big ol' pan
Potato masher or immersion blender

1.  Quarter potatoes and boil them until fork-tender.
2.  Let them cool.
3.  Remove skins-- I like to leave a few on for that "rustic" look, but you can't have a chunky dough here, at all.
4.  Add oil and salt and splash of water to potatoes and mash the hell out of them!  You want something completely smooth and lump free.  It will probably get sort of gluey, but this is OK.
5.  Add in flour a bit at a time, at first with a fork, and then kneaded in.  Use your hands, it's the best tool for the job.  Add more water if it's too dry.
6.  Let dough rest for a few minutes to absorb the water-- half an hour is good.
7.  Pinch or blob off bits of dough about an inch across onto a clean counter.  You can coat your hands and the surface with flour if dough is too sticky.
8.  Let them air dry for an hour or so, as it keeps them from sticking together in the pot.
9.  Cook in boiling water until they float, or
9a.  Lay out on baking sheet to freeze, then transfer to a plastic bag after frozen.  (This will keep them from sticking together too badly).  Once you want to eat them, cook in boiling water until they float, no need to thaw first.

The picture displays gnocchi with a chopped tomato, a big handful of chopped raw green beans, olive oil, and fresh oregano! 

Coating Chocolate Truffles

As said previously, chocolate has several crystal forming points. Know how chocolate chip cookies have soft bits of chocolate in them? Or how fudge sauce hardens to a sort of dull consistency? That's what you want to avoid here. In order for chocolate to harden to get that "snap" quality when you break it, and to maintain a glossy appearance after it hardens, it needs to be tempered. Which is to say, it needs to be heated to above 105 degrees F to eliminate the softer form of crystals, let cool until below 90 degrees F, and then some small amount of properly-crystalized chocolate needs to be added in to get it to form the right structure.

Deep breath. It's not so bad. Use your thermometer! And use a microwave, so you can control the temperature of very small amounts of ingredients.

8 oz chocolate
Something to coat in chocolate-- 1 recipe of chocolate truffle centers, dried fruit, pretzels...
Candied zest, dried fruit, sprinkles, for decoration (optional: see below)

THERMOMETER, which reads the 80 to 100 degree F range accurately.
Knife & cutting board
A couple of microwave-safe bowls.
Wax paper or aluminum foil.

1. Chop chocolate very fine.
2. Reserve about 1 teaspoon.
3. Nuke the rest of the chocolate for 2 minutes and stir every 30 seconds. It does not have to be totally smooth-- residual heat will serve to melt any remaining bits.
4. Measure temperature-- if above 105 F, stop. If not above 105 F, heat for a few more seconds.
5. Let mixture cool to below 90 F-- I find transferring it to a cooler bowl helps get to the right temperature with reasonable speed, especially in the summer when the kitchen is hot.
6. Then, keeping mixture between 80 and 90 F, stir in reserved chocolate (for seed crystals). Maintain temperature as you dip balls of chocolate in. A hot pad or very warm kitchen helps. 7. Optional: Put zest, dried fruit, sprinkles, etc on top of candies before they completely harden.

Honey-Dried Cherry Chocolate Truffles

This is a different sort of chocolate truffle, made with no dairy. Creamed honey and dried fruit make the centers, for a sweet and sticky and totally different experience. You can use a different dried fruit than cherries, but make sure that it is tart! Cranberries would work well also, I think.

Unfortunately, to keep the truffle shape, you do need to coat these with chocolate, and that does take some effort. But it is well worth it!

Honey-Dried Cherry Chocolate Truffles
Makes approx. 2 dozen, depending on size

1 1/2 c tart dried cherries-- look for unsulfured and unsweetened.
1/2 c creamed honey-- the thick, whipped kind that is off-white and comes in a tub.
8 0z unsweetened dark chocolate, for covering.

Knife & cutting board
Couple of bowls
Foil or wax paper.

1. Chop cherries as finely as possible. If you happen to have kitchen scissors, the easiest way to do this is to put them in a tall measuring cup and snip at them until they are all chopped up. If not, well, the finer the chop, the better the texture, so be patient!
2. Mix honey and chopped cherries together. You'll really have to work at it to get it smooth.
3. Place in refrigerator for a half-hour or so, or until less sticky.
4. Quickly roll out approx 1 inch balls of the mixture onto wax paper or foil covered tray.
5. Put tray in freezer so the centers harden and become less-than-impossible to work with. Leave them in for an hour or two.

Grapefruit-raspberry chocolate truffles

Chocolate truffles are actually not that hard to make, and are excellent gifts. The key is patience, working slowly, and if trying to temper chocolate, using a thermometer. Good ingredients helps too-- there are only 2 essential ingredients, cream and dark chocolate, so buy high-quality materials. You can also add small amounts of flavorings or liquor.

The reason why chocolate is hard to work with is that it is a crystalline solid that melts right around body temperature. This is also why it's so good... There are a variety of forms of chocolate crystals, which is why care needs to be taken when melting and then re-solidifying chocolate, and which means that chocolate does not like changing temperatures quickly. So work slowly and methodically!

This is a recipe I developed for my underage brother's late June birthday, so it has no alcohol in it and has (I think) a sort of summery flavor, though the ingredients are not seasonal in the least.
Grapefruit-raspberry truffles
Makes: About 2 dozen, depending on size.

For ganache centers:

8 oz (half pound) dark chocolate
1/2 c cream
1 T finely chopped grapefruit zest
1 t raspberry jam, with or without seeds

2 microwave-safe containers
Sharp knife & cutting board
Plastic wrap
Copious quantities of aluminum foil or waxed paper.
Pastry bag or ziploc bag with the end cut off

1. Chop chocolate VERY finely.
2. Heat cream in until bubbles start to form. Watch it doesn't foam because that will be a huge mess to clean up. Doing this in the microwave is the easiest because it's such a small amount. Use a large container-- I like to use at least a pint-sized mason jar for the task.
3. Add hot cream to chocolate a splash at a time. Do this slowly as chocolate is susceptible to heat shock and will seize. Stir to combine until all incorporated.
3a. If chocolate starts to seize (look grainy) STOP. Add a small amount of cold cream, and then stop. The texture will be less nice but it will still taste good.
3b. If there are still unmelted chunks of chocolate in the mixture, but it has not seized, you can spoon off a small amount of it and heat it in the microwave for 15-30 seconds. Stir this into the larger bowl a half-spoonful at a time to avoid heat-shock.
4. Add zest and jam, mix.
5. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rest on counter for between 2 and 4 hours, or until about "toothpaste consistency." I use hippie toothpaste and find that "toms of maine" consistency is about right but "trader joes baking soda natural toothpaste of doom" consistency is too hard.

Several hours later:
6. After ganache has set, transfer chocolate to pastry bag or ziploc bag, and pipe out little blobs onto wax paper or foil-- about an inch across is about right.
6a. If your chocolate got too hard to pipe or you're feeling lazy, you can sort of spoon blobs onto your foil or wax paper, which will be just as tasty but less pretty.
7. Let harden for an hour or so. This timing is not critical, and if your kitchen is too hot, you can transfer the truffle centers to the fridge.

To coat centers:

You can now go one of two routes: Coat truffle centers with more chocolate (difficult!) or, roll them in cocoa powder or powdered sugar (easy!)

The easy method:
Approx. 1/4 c of cocoa powder or powdered sugar.

Large plate.

1. Pour cocoa powder or sugar onto plate.
2. Roll the truffle centers in this until they are coated.

The difficult method:

I'm putting this in a separate document because it is a process unto itself.

Friday, July 10, 2009

"elephant ice cubes"

My mom and sister were cleaning out the house and found a cookbook my sister and I made when we were 6, judging by the other side of the recycled paper we used.  It's done in sparkly metallic crayon and is entitled "Grose Respies."   It includes recipes for "Elephant Ice Cubes", "Hair and Hellacopter Soup", "Penguin Suap", "Slug and Snail Stew", "Garbig and Paper Stew", and "Peanut Butter and Crayon Sandwich."

So, here's Elephant Ice Cubes:  (sic; caution, not actually edible)

Makes 100.

1 elephant, 10 freezers.
1. Take the tusks off.
2. Grind the elephant. (Chop the elphant and take out the bones)
3. Pour poader in to mash.
4. Freeze

Saturday, July 4, 2009


This is a slap-dash baklava recipe that A and L came up with... The beauty of this is that it's just a method-- so, for non-fiddly, uneager to measure cooks (like us) here is "Mocklava."  It was given rave reviews at a party we brought it to.


Makes: about 12


Phyllo dough: we used half a package.
Walnuts: we used about 1/3 cup
Almonds: we used also about 1/3 cup
Olive oil: we used about 3 tbs
Butter: we used about 3 tbs

Chop up walnuts and almonds into fine pieces.  Pour enough honey on to adhere it all together and make it nice and moist and gloppy.  Mix in a few good shakes of cinnamon.

Cut phyllo dough into squares-- approximately 4 inches is what we used.

Put an equal quantity of butter and olive oil in a bowl, and nuke it/heat it to melt.  We used about 3 tablespoons of each, to combine the best of each flavor.  But one could just use oil, or just butter if one wanted.

Brush oil/butter mixture onto a baking pan, and onto a plate.  On the plate, assemble stacks of phyllo dough squares.  For each piece of mocklava, layer 5 pieces of phyllo dough, brushing oil between each layer.

Transfer phyllo dough layers to greased baking sheet.  Top with ~1 tablespoon of the nut-honey mixture.  Fold up the corners of the dough into the middle of the sheet to enclose the filling.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and the kitchen starts to smell delicious.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Peanut Butter and Honey Cookies

Peanut butter cookies are delicious, as is honey. Peanut butter and honey together are even better. Almost as good as peanut butter and chocolate (recipe soon to come).

Peanut Butter and Honey Cookies

Makes 1 1/2 to 2 dozen.

1/2 c natural peanut butter-- chunky or creamy
1/2 c honey

1 egg
1/2 c brown sugar, packed

1/2 c butter
1 t vanilla
2 c flour

1 t salt

1 t baking soda

Mix peanut butter and honey together. Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla. Add egg, mix. Add peanut butter-honey mixture. Cream together. Mix in separate bowl flour, salt, and baking soda. Add half at a time to wet ingredients, mix. Portion into 1 1/2 inch balls on to baking sheet, flatten and cross the tines of a fork across the top.