Monday, December 12, 2011

Breakfast bran muffins with veggies

Their are two kinds of muffins; the sweet calorie-bomb kind that's basically a dessert and the healthy kind. These are the latter variety: chock full of healthy ingredients that fill you up. The carrots and zucchini make this a very moist muffin and all of the whole grains make it pretty dense. When I filled the muffin tins I mounded the batter, unlike a traditional muffin these will barely rise so fill the tins accordingly.

I am lucky enough to be able to find these ingredients with a minimum of fuss and expense but for readers who can't find these ingredients I would just omit the flaxseed meal and increase the oat or wheat bran. If you can only find one kind of bran then just use that. Either way I think these muffins will be delicious. If you omit the flaxseed meal increase the oil/butter to 1/3 cup.

Breakfast bran muffins
adapted from here
makes approximately 15

2 cups wheat bran
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup flaxseed meal
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup yogurt
1/4 cup melted butter
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup packed finely shredded zucchini
1 cup packed finely shredded carrots
3/4 cup raisins

Place your oven rack to the middle and preheat to 375 degrees.

Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Combine all of the wet ingredients in a bowl.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Fold in the zucchini, carrots, and raisins.

Fill a greased muffin pan and bake for 20-30 minutes (mine took 25-30).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Backyard edibles: The wonder weed Purslane

Most people are familiar with purslane as an annoyingly invasive weed; I know that's what I always thought. Then I read Claudia Roden's book of Middle eastern cooking, in her fattoush recipe she mentioned purslane as one of the ingredients. I didn't have a clue what purslane was and I was curious about this mysterious and exotic ingredient. So with a bit of googling I had my answer and was absolutely gobsmacked when I realized it was a weed. And not just any weed, one that I had spent a good amount of time attempting to eradicate from my yard. And I was even more surprised when I read that it has the largest amount of Omega 3's of all leafy plants (purslane has up to 400 mg per cup, salmon has 1400 mg per 4 oz.). Ever since I learned about this wonder weed I vowed that the next time purslane popped up in my yard I'd water and care for it properly. Luckily I had some grow next to my vegetable patch about a month ago. I watered the purslane daily during this hot summer to encourage it to be leafy and succulent, it grew amazingly fast and now I have a generous patch of purslane.

I prepared my purslane simply by rinsing well then stripping the leaves off of the fat stems, some of the little stems seemed tender so I threw some of those in. Then I gave them another good rinse, the plant has lots of tiny black seeds about half the size of poppy seeds so I tried to rinse them all away.

Then I added in other salad fixings and we had a delicious fattoush. Purslane has a very interesting texture, it's crunchy and a bit mucilaginous with a slightly sour bite. I really enjoyed it and have decided that the only time I pull Purslane will be to add it to my salad.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Soda Stream Jet Review

When I was given the opportunity to review a machine called the Sodastream I was very excited. One of my vices (among several) is that I drink a lot of Diet Soda and the premise of this machine is that with only a CO2 cartridge and their machine you can make up to 60 L of carbonated water. They also claim that you will save the environment and money too.

The Sodastream Fountain Jet machine ($79.95) came in an attractive box which included a 60 L carbonator, one 1 liter bottle, an instruction booklet and the machine. The machine has an unobtrusive, streamlined appearance that would fit in well with most people’s kitchen decor. It is made of plastic and does feel kind of flimsy.

The machine was pretty easy to use and set up although the instruction booklet was minimally helpful, it had pictures that were hard for me to interpret. To insert the carbonator you first must remove the cap and wrapping from the carbonator bottle, then remove the back of the machine and put the bottle into the hole and screw it in to the underneath of the top of the machine and reattach the back.

In order to use the machine you must have very cold water to get the best carbonation. I started keeping a bottle of cold water in the fridge just for that purpose. The trickiest part is screwing the bottle in, with one hand you have to push the front part in which makes the part where you screw the bottle in push out. Then using your other hand screw the bottle in. The first few times were a bit tricky but it became easier with practice. After screwing the bottle in push the top button until you hear a loud buzz then push the button two more times to get an average fizz. A problem that I encountered was that it took me around 14 button pushes to get the machine to make a buzz and it would make this sad squeal with every push, then I’d have to push three more times. Even after all of the pushing and hearing three buzzes the carbonation was poor. I couldn't quite figure out what was wrong and then I realized that I wasn't pushing the button hard enough. You have to nearly mash the button to get it to carbonate. The machine isn't made of what appears to be durable materials so I am curious how long it will hold up to the button mashing but as for now it's doing fine.

After carbonating the water then you can mix flavors in if you like. Mixing the Sodastream flavors at first stumped me a little, I tried to pour them into the bottle but I couldn’t get them to mix in well because I didn't want to aggressively shake my fizzy water. I finally settled on using a cup, pouring some of the syrup into the cup and then pouring the carbonated water directly onto the syrup forcefully, at first this made me cringe. I like fizzy soda and always carefully pour soda down the side of the glass to keep from losing carbonation. Because the water is so heavily carbonated, the carbonation lost is minimal and it gets the syrup to dissolve easily. For anyone who thinks they can carbonate their favorite juice unfortunately that will cause a big mess and void the warranty. Only water is able to be carbonated and you can mix whatever flavorings in after.

There are a lot of stores that are selling several Sodastream models; the Sodastream Genesis which is one step up from the Jet in terms of price ($99.95) and the Penguin which has glass bottles. Kohls and Bed Bath and Beyond are two of the mainstream, nationwide retailers that sell them. You can also do carbonator exchanges at Bed Bath and Beyond which is a better alternative for some people than the mail order exchange the company offers.

One of the claims by the Sodastream company is that using their products will save you money and cost only 25 cents per can or liter of fizzy water that you make. This is only partially true according to my calculations below. As a disclaimer I am far from being a math whiz so if someone has any issues with my calculations please leave me a comment.

A soda stream cartridge refill is $15, if you have a Bed Bath and Beyond coupon it could even be cheaper. $15 will give you approximately 60 liters according to the company, a soda stream flavoring is approximately $5.99 and will give you 12 liters per bottle of flavoring or 33 cans.

Flavored Soda Cost:

Cartridge= $15
$5.99 (syrup)x5= $29.95
60L or 160 cans of soda =$44.95

Price per can= $0.28
Price per 1L= $0.75

Carbonated Water Cost:

Cartridge- $15

Price per 1L= $0.25
Price per can= $0.06

A typical 2L at Walmart is $1.50 when not on sale so the Sodastream would actually be an equal price for flavored soda. If I do the math using ounces and cans the Sodastream will seem more economical but because the sodastream doesn’t create 12 ounce cans it makes more sense to compare the price of a 2L to the 1L Sodastream bottles in my opinion.

As for myself the Sodastream is saving me some money. I typically buy 1-3 20 oz bottles of soda at work at $1.50/bottle (I know it’s highway robbery), I’ve been bringing my homemade sodas instead of buying from the overpriced vending machines at work. I could save money by bringing 2L bottles but they are too large and the 1L Sodastream bottles are perfect.

As shown above the cost savings will be greater if you make your own soda flavorings or just drink the sparkling water plain. One of my favorite ways to drink my soda stream water is with a generous squeeze of lime. It’s refreshing and calorie free.

There is no question that the Sodastream is much more “green” than using and recycling plastic bottles or metal cans. It’s nice to know that I am reducing substantially the amount of plastic and metal I am using. Also the sodastream doesn’t use any electricity or batteries which is awesome for anyone who doesn’t have a lot of outlets in their kitchen or who already has enough gadgets plugged in.

The plastic Sodastream bottles are BPA free and all components can be recycled. They cannot be placed in hot water or the dishwasher and they cannot be used indefinitely; my bottles expire in 3 years. The FAQ’s on their website say that the reason the bottles cannot be used indefinitely is that they experience a lot of force with the carbonation and shouldn’t be used for longer than the date on them. I will admit that I don’t care for the giant expiration dates emblazoned across the bottles since I have been carrying them to work and displaying them on my desk. They do look a little odd and I’ve been questioned about them several times by curious coworkers.

If you have concerns about using plastic bottles Sodastream has a model, The Penguin that uses glass bottles which costs $199.95


I’ve had the opportunity to try a good quantity of the Sodastream flavors and overall they are pretty good. Their were only a couple that I absolutely hated, some that I didn’t like and several that have become my favorites. There are some definite positives to the Sodastream flavorings; they have no or low caffeine and contain Splenda instead of Aspartame. Also the regular soda flavorings are quite a bit lower in calories than their commercial counterparts 35 calories per serving vs. 110. One downside to the calorie savings is that ALL of the sodastream flavors contain Splenda, even the regular ones. So if you don’t like Splenda then you are out of luck unless you want to try the Sodastream Naturals line.

The soda stream naturals really impressed me, they are delicious and made with cane sugar and other natural ingredients. The cost for all of the flavor is that their calories are equivalent to commercial brands (around 110 calories per 8 oz.) but in my opinion the two I’ve tried had superior flavor to a lot of the commercial brands. There are 9 different varieties of Sodastream Naturals. The price for regular Sodastream flavorings range from $4.99-6.99 and the naturals are around $9.99 each. I wish the Sodastream website listed all of the caffeine content of their drink mixes because I do like to track that.

The Good:

Cola Zero- This would be the surprising underdog of the flavors. A lot of their diet flavors haven’t impressed me or been on par with diet coke or pepsi to really give me my “fix” This is good, it tastes like a cross between diet coke and diet pepsi.

Cranberry Raspberry- Pretty tasty. Has a definite cranberry flavor, it’s one of my favorites that I reach for often.

Lemon Lime- Similar to Sprite, a clean citrus flavor.

Diet Lemon Lime- Nearly identical to sprite zero, a good flavor

Sparkling Naturals Cola- very good. On par with Coke and Pepsi, also has some caffeine which is good for those of us that crave a little caffeine. My friend who is a Coke addict said that this was “really good.” I wish that the company would list the caffeine content per 8 oz., the calories are equal to Coke or Pepsi

Sparkling Naturals Black Currant Pear- very good. I liked this one a lot. My husband and friend were not as crazy about it although they didn’t dislike it. My friend remarked that it tasted like sparkling fruit juice.

Grape- Good flavor reminiscent of childrens Dimetapp which oddly enough I always enjoyed when I was little. If you’re not a children’s cough syrup junky then this might be a questionable flavor.

Green tea pomegranate peach- surprisingly good. I was certain that I wasn’t going to like it and ended up enjoying it. It definitely tastes artificial, it reminds me of the bottled Lipton green tea flavors.

Rootbeer- My husband really liked this one. Has a pretty decent rootbeer flavor, not as good as some of the commercial brands but we both liked this.

The Okay:

Ruby Red grapefruit- Has a definite artificial flavor but overall not bad, reminded me of crystal light.

Diet ruby red grapefruit- Very strong grapefruit flavor. If you like Fresca you’d like this.

Diet Orange- Good, not fabulous but on par with a “knock off” orange soda. Has a little bit of bitterness that was reminiscent of San Pelligrino Aranciata.

Dr. Pete- Pretty tasty, not as good as Dr. Pepper but a decent approximation.

Diet Rootbeer- Not bad but not good. Weak rootbeer flavor. Wouldn’t purchase again.

Ginger ale- Has a strong artificial flavor that I didn’t like and no discernible ginger flavor. That being said I like my ginger ale to be extremely gingery like Reeds Ginger Brew.

Diet Cola- Didn’t like this, the flavor wasn’t terrible but it didn’t taste good.

Diet Fountain Mist- Okay, seemed like a poor imitation of Diet Mountain dew.

My Water orange- The only My water flavor that I thought was okay. It smells good and adds a faint orange flavor to the water that tasted real.

The Ugly:

Diet Dr. Pete- Really awful bitter taste. It actually made me wipe my tongue because it was so unpleasant. This is the flavor that made me change my soda tasting technique to small initial sips rather than large gulps in case there is another flavor as unpleasant.

Energy- Pretty unpleasant with a bitter, artificial flavor. That being said, I don't like Red Bull so it didn't surprise me that I didn't enjoy this either.

My Water Raspberry- Bitter, artificial flavor that didn't really resemble raspberry.

My Water Lemon Lime- It has a very nice citrusy smell but the taste was very acrid and unpleasant.


I’d recommend this product with reservations; their is very little if any cost savings so if you are looking for something to save you money I wouldn't recommend the Sodastream. Otherwise it's one of those rare machines that does what it says it will. I’d recommend purchasing one of these for anyone who is environmentally conscious and drinks a lot of fizzy beverages and isn’t particularly picky about flavor, although Sodastream has several good flavors they still are not replicas of some of the commercial brands like Coke or Pepsi. The Sodastream isn’t necessarily a better deal but there is something pretty awesome about being able to make many flavors of soda at home without a shopping trip and dragging bottles and cans home.

Disclosure: The Sodastream company provided me with a Sodastream fountain Jet machine and 10 bottles of flavoring, my review was not influenced by this. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dulce de' Leche Cheesecake with a Chili Chocolate Ganache

As a rule I don't like cheesecake... most of the time I will even turn down a piece if it's offered. I've always figured that if I was going to eat 800 calories than I darn well better really enjoy them. Cheesecake usually has an unpleasant sweet/sour tang to me and it's always kind of moist yet dry all at the same time. Occasionally I've seen one dressed up beautifully with all sorts of scintillating toppings and I've given it a hopeful taste only to realize that it was just like every other cheesecake that has let me down.

But this cheesecake that I am going to share with you has erased all of my fears and disappointments and has helped me to realize that it's not that I don't like cheesecake, I don't like bad cheesecake. Needless to say my hips will never be the same.

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake with Chili Chocolate Ganache
Adapted from Taste of Home

1-3/4 cups crushed gingersnap cookies (about 35 cookies)
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter, melted

3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup 2% milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (13.4 ounces) dulce de leche*

Chili Chocolate Ganache:
1 bag (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1-1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbsn unsalted butter

*I found the Dulce de Leche in the Hispanic section at my local Walmart

Using a food processor grind up the gingersnaps, walnuts, sugar and cinnamon until fine. Add the melted butter until ingredients are moistened. Pre-grease a 9" springform pan, wrap the outside bottom and sides in a double layer of aluminum foil. Apply the crust mixture evenly on the bottom and half way up the sides of the pan.

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in the milk, flour and vanilla. Add eggs; beat on low speed just until combined. Pour into crust.

Pour dulce de leche into a microwave-safe bowl; microwave at 50% power until softened. Drop dulce de leche by tablespoonfuls over batter; cut through batter with a knife to swirl.

Place springform pan in a large baking pan; add 1 in. of hot water to larger pan. Bake at 350° for 60-70 minutes* or until center is just set and top appears dull. Remove springform pan from water bath. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; cool 1 hour longer.

Pour the chocolate chips, chili powder and heavy cream into a microwave safe bowl. Mix together, microwave in 30 second intervals until all of the chocolate is melted. Add the butter and stir. Allow the ganache to cool until it is lukewarm, spoon over the top of the cheesecake and smooth. Cover and refrigerate the cheesecake overnight, when ready to serve unmold it from the springform pan.

*It took me 75-80 minutes in my gas oven for the cheesecake to cook.

Serve this with a glass of cold milk to help cut the richness.

Friday, April 1, 2011

French apple tart for Sam

Whenever my husband has a birthday I make him a home made desert and their are several reasons for this. Partly because what says I love and appreciate you more than a homemade dessert? And secondly because I am a bad gift giver, I don't mean to be but several factors come together to make my gift giving rather, how can I put this nicely? Underwhelming, boring, and predictable. The number one reason is I can't seem to hold back the excitement of buying him a gift so I usually give it early (this year he got his gift a week early)and what's worse than giving a bad gift? Giving the bad gift early or late! And number two it's usually something predictable and unexciting (this year was a new work out dvd from Beach Body fitness that he wanted) so I have to make up for my gifts with a pretty spectacular and tasty dessert, I am not a creative gift giver but I have flair in the kitchen... and what man doesn't love a little flair in the kitchen right??

When I asked him what dessert he wanted for his birthday he requested an apple pie. After cooing about how darn cute it was for a guy that's a first generation immigrant to request good ol' American apple pie. I set out to make a delicious one that said I love you much better than my workout DVD, and don't think the irony of making him a fattening dessert while simultaneously gifting a workout DVD was lost on me. I rationalized that it was his birthday after all, who doesn't have a sweet something or other on their birthday?

So out came my inherited, "Baking with Julia" book and after some deliberation I decided on the French Apple tart. It took me around 4 hours of work, several moments of frustrated cursing and a bit of nail biting regarding how the finished product would taste. Fortunately, all of the work paid off and it was delicious. From now on it will be my stand in when an apple pie or tart needs to be made.

A few words on the recipe before I post it; the pastry dough is extremely forgiving which is a huge plus for me. For some reason the house was a bit humid, which rarely happens in Arizona and my butter and shortening would only stay cold for moments after taking them out of the freezer; so as I made my pastry dough I had my suspicions that it wasn't going to work or taste very good. Except it did! Sure it fell apart after I rolled it out and I ended up, out of desperation patching the holes by squishing them together with my fingers. I felt sure that the crust was going to be tough and nasty because I had manipulated it way more than anyone should ever mess with a pastry crust. Except it wasn't, it was tender and flaky probably owing to the massive amounts of butter and shortening. I would rate the pastry dough as being pretty idiot proof, which is great for someone like me. The only change I'd make is adding a tablespoon or two of sugar for sweeter desserts. It's a great all purpose dough but I think it would have worked better with a teensy hint of sweetness.

The filling is great but next time I would double the amount I make. I ended up a bit short on filling and I am not really sure why. I actually used 2 more apples to combat the problem and I was still short. It's possible my apples were smaller than they should have been or perhaps their was a miscalculation with the cookbook. Next time I'd double it.

Without further ado here's the recipe:

Flaky Pie dough
makes enough dough for 4 open faced pies or 2 double crust pies

5 1/4 cups pastry flour or all purpose flour
1 tbsn. kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 oz.) cold unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups (11 oz.) solid vegetable shortening, chilled
1 cup ice water

To make the dough in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, put the flour and salt into the bowl and mix together. Add the butter and mix on low until it is cut into the dry ingredients and the mixture looks coarse and crumbly. Add the shortening in small bits and continue to mix on low. When the mixture is clumpy and curdy and holds together when a small bit is pressed between your fingers, add the water and mix only until it is incorporated. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and fold it over on itself two or three times, just to finish the mixing and to gather it together.

Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or for as long as 5 days. The dough can be kept in the refrigerator for 5 days or frozen for 1 month. If you are going to freeze it divide the dough into quarters prior to freezing.

French Apple Tart

1/4 of recipe for flaky pie crust

6 Granny smith apples
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbsn. all purpose flour
pinch of cinnamon
1/2 cup fresh, fluffy bread crumbs
2 tsp. (approximately)fresh lemon juice
1 tbsn. vanilla (the original recipe doesn't call for this but I added it to fit with my personal taste)

2 to 3 granny smith apples
1 tbsn. fresh lemon juice
2 tbsn unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar

Preparing the crust:
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a circle about 1/8 inch thick and fit it into a 9 inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Let the crust chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Blind baking the crust:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees farenheit. Fit a piece of parchment paper or foil into the tart shell and fill with pie weights, rice, or dried beans. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Transfer the crust, with the pie weights to a rack and let cool while you make the filling. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees farenehit.

Making the filling:
Peel and core the apples, try to get 10-12 slices from each apple. Place the apples in a bowl and toss with the sugar, flour, cinnamon, vanilla, and bread crumbs. Add a squeeze of lemon juice. Spread the apples on a jelly-roll pan and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the apples give up their juices, start to form a sauce, and are soft enough to mash. Scrape the apples into a bowl and mash with a potato masher or a fork. Don't be overzealous- a few small lumps and bumps will add interest to the filling. Taste and add more lemon juice if you think it needs it, then cool the filling for about 15 minutes.

Filling the shell:
Spoon the filling into the shells, the filling should come to right below the rim.

Preparing the topping:
Peel and thinly slice three granny smith apples. Toss them with the tablespoon of lemon juice to keep them from browning. Arrange the apples in a circular pattern starting from the outside, slightly overlapping the slices. Work around the pie until the filling is completely covered. Brush the apple slices with butter and sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Bake the tart for 25-30 minutes (I baked for 40 minutes) or until the top is beautifully glazed and the apple slices are edged in black. The tart is best served warm from the oven.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Stuffed Peppers

I love stuffed peppers and I feel like they've been given a bad rap. They can be so much more than the quintessential ground beef,rice, and tomato sauce version that most of us have been underwhelmed by. Peppers lend themselves well to being seasoned creatively; I've made a Mediterranean version with ground lamb and beef seasoned with cloves and cinnamon, tomatoes herbs, spices and pine nuts. I've also done an asian fusion with ground chicken, bok choy, scallions and a few other items. Stuffed peppers don't have to be boring and bland, they can be savory and customizable not to mention affordable on a tight budget.

The recipe I am sharing today is similar to a basic stuffed pepper recipe but I've pepped it up with lots of garlic, fresh herbs, mushrooms and onions along with some fire roasted tomatoes. These aren't your grandma's stuffed peppers and really why should they be?

Basic stuffed peppers
makes approximately 6 peppers

1 lb lean ground beef
1/4 cup White button Mushrooms
1/2 of a white onion
4 cloves garlic
1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes (I used Hunt's fire roasted)
6 peppers, tops and seeds removed
1 cup Medium Cheddar Cheese, shredded

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil, place peppers in the boiling water and cook for 10-15 minutes. The peppers won't immediately feel soft when you are taking them out of the water but once they sit for a few minutes they should be pliable without being mushy.

Now preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Chop up the onions, mushrooms, fresh parsley, thyme and basil. Cook the onions and mushrooms in a pan with some Olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add the minced garlic and the chopped up herbs and cook until fragrant. Add approximately 1/2 tsp salt to this mixture. Finally once all of the items are cooked add the drained tomatoes, stir together and leave in the pan set on low.

Cook the ground beef, add 1/4 tsp salt, freshly ground black pepper, dash of Cayenne and a dash (or two) of cinnamon. Once the ground beef is cooked and drained add it to the vegetable mixture and stir well.

Place the peppers in a casserole dish and fill them with the ground beef/tomato mixture and then top with the cheese.

Cook in the oven at 375 until the cheese is melted. Serve and enjoy!

One of the differences in the recipe I am sharing is that I don't do the traditional method of filling raw peppers with a raw rice/beef mixture and that to me makes all of the difference. In a traditional recipe, by the time the filling is cooked the peppers are a mushy mess. In order to eliminate that problem I cook all of the ingredients separately and then combine them at the end. Everything is cooked appropriately and then assembled and in the end you get tender, soft peppers that aren't mushy and juicy, flavorful filling that isn't dried out. It's a win, win situation.

If you are cooking for only two like myself and don't really want 6 stuffed peppers to work your way through. Make only three peppers and use the left over meat/veggie mixture to make a meaty marinara sauce and serve it with spaghetti the next day. That's what I did and my husband didn't even know I was essentially serving leftovers.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Arabic pita bread

When I moved away from Michigan I realized something very disappointing. If I ever wanted to eat relatively authentic, fresh pita bread I'd either have to hop on a plane or learn to make it myself.

I like to use a recipe from Claudia Roden's book, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food it's easy but time consuming. The pitas are only good for a day or two but the leftovers can be fried to make pita chips for fattoush.

Arabic Pita Bread
1 tbsn active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/4 tsp. sugar
about 6 cups unbleached white bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2-2 tsp. salt
3 tbsn vegetable or EVOO

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the warm water. Add the sugar, and when it begins to froth (this will be proof that the yeast is still active), stir in the remaining water. add 3 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time, gradually, stirring vigorously. Let this sponge rest for 10 minutes or until it froths.

Stir in the salt and 2 tbsn of the oil and mix well. Add the remaining flour gradually, a little at a time (you may need less), until you have a dough that holds together in a ball. Knead well by hand in the bowl, or on a floured board, for about 10 minutes, until it is smooth, shiny, and elastic and no longer sticks to your fingers, dusting with a little flour occasionally if it is too sticky.

Put the remaining tbsn. of oil in the bottom of the bowl and roll the ball of dough around to grease it all over. This will prevent the surface from becoming dry and crusty. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place free of drafts for about 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven set at the maximum, 500 degrees farenheit for at least 20 minutes, and place a large baking sheet or baking stone in the hottest part.

Punch the dough down and knead again for a few minutes, then divide in half. Divide the first half into 8 lumps. Flatten each one on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin sprinkled with flour, into rounds between 1/8 and 1/4 inches thick and about 7-8 inches in diameter. Dust with flour and lay the rounds on a cloth sprinkled with flour. Arrange them 1 inch apart, so that they do not touch as they grow. Cover with another lightly floured cloth, an dleave to rest and rise again for about 20 minutes at room temperature.

When the bread has risen again, place 2 rounds at a time on the hot baking stone sprinkled lightly with flour, and bake for 3-5 minutes, or until they puff up like balloons and are slightly brown on top.

Wrap the breads together in a cloth while still hot, or put them in a plastic bag to keep them soft and pliable while you bake the rest of the breads.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cilantro Lime Salsa

This is by far the easiest recipe I've ever posted on this blog. It's only three (well four if you count salt) ingredients and it has an incredible flavor impact. I came up with it when I noticed that when I would eat tacos from Mexican restaurants they would often put an onion/cilantro salsa on my tacos. They gave the tacos an incredible flavor that surprised me and I decided to try making my own and my cilantro lime salsa was born. Every time we have tacos this is what I make to go with it and it's always a hit. It also has the bonus of being the base for pico de'gallo so you can just add four or five chopped up roma tomatoes and one diced jalapeno and you'll have pico.

Cilantro Lime Salsa

1 white onion
1 bunch cilantro
1-2 limes
1/4-1/2 tsp salt to taste

Chop the onion and cilantro and combine in a bowl. Juice the lime(s) into the bowl with the cilantro and onion. Add the salt and mix well. Place in the refrigerator 30 minutes to 1 hour to let the flavors meld.

How we usually eat it, chicken tacos with cheese, black beans, regular salsa and cilantro lime salsa: