Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bosnian savory pastry thing?

The problem with these kinds of recipes is that its really hard to get exact measurements out of the cooks, in this case Mirna and her mother. The awesome thing about these kinds of recipes is that you have to make it up yourself. This round was all Mirna's doing, so Ill try to stick down some exact measurements when I try! consider this post to be in-process.


2-3 cups all purpose flour (King Arthur's Flour!!!!)
~ 1 T vegetable oil
Salt dissolved in warm water: enough to make it a soft dough

Good lord these ingredients are vague. But I would guess about 1.5 tsp salt and about 1.5 c warm water, but you can always add more water, 1/4 a cup at a time if the flour isnt getting absorbed.

Stir the oil into the flour and dissolve the salt in the water. Form a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the water. Stir with a fork, slowly incorporating more and more flour until you have a dough. Add more water if needed.

Knead this until it is a fairly smooth dough.

Rub it down with some oil.

Let it sit for about an hour or more.

Anchor a sheet over your table and sprinkle a handful of flour first. I don't know why.

Using a rolling pin and your hands, and all the friends' hands you can find, work the dough out as flat and huge as you can manage. This took us a lot of time, and a lot of dough skilz, but in the end, us 1: dough 0. woot

A couple tips Mirna showed me: use small amounts of oil to moisten the dough as it gets spread super thin and gets kind of dry. You really want it to be as thin as possible, and it helps if you can get it to the edges of a table as shown in the picture so that you can anchor it around the corners, keeping it stretched out.

Another beauty, you can probably fill it with whatever you want. Here Mirna used a spinach recipe, but you best believe my first batch will be made with ground beef.

1/2 - 1 lb spinach
2-3 eggs
about 8 oz cottage cheese
4 oz sour cream
Feta, the more the better, in my opinion
Salt and and pepper

Cut the stems off of the spinach (baby or adult is fine) and stack the leaves into little mounds. Slice them crosswise, making little strips of spinach. Soak this in water for about five minutes, squeeze them dry, and rinse again. Sprinkle some salt in the spinach, toss, and repeat.

In a bowl, stir all of the ingredients together and put the mixture in the refrigerator until you're ready to assemble.


Make a line of filling along the long side of the dough and fold the dough over it, lengthwise. Use a knife to cut a perpendicular line out of the dough so you have a long strip of dough with a similar strip of filling. Fold the ends of the dough in, as shown in the picture, and roll it lengthwise so that you end up with a tube of dough with filling on the inside. Repeat until you run out of dough and filling.

At this point you have two options: you can either wrap each one into an individual spiral, or wrap them around each other, one at a time, to form one big spiral that can be served in slices, as shown here.

Bake at 350 degrees "until its not light on the sides anymore." hmm.... Im going to guess it was about 20 minutes.

After you stick it in the oven, heat together about 1/4-1/2 cup milk with a couple tablespoons of butter.

When the pastry is ALMOST done, drizzle this glaze over top and finish baking.

Once browned all around, remove from the oven and cover it with a cloth as it cools.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Red Velvet Cake: crooked but delicious

There will be no hating on this cake. It might be a little bit crooked, but it was the perfect compliment to Mirna's Bosnian Vday Dinner.

The idea first came from "Cunt," an awesome book. I don't really know how to describe the book, but I think a line from the first pages sums up the book's beauty: " 'vagina' originates from a word meaning sheath for a sword. Ain't got no vagina."

Anyway, she mentions a community she visited that throws an all red party for girls when they start their periods to celebrate their femininity and share stories between generations of women. They ate red velvet cake. Hence, we ate red velvet cake at our valentine's day party. damn good red velvet cake. Thanks to mom's good southern church ladies for the awesome recipe

1/2 cup butter, left out to "soften" for a few hours
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp cocoa
1 oz. red food coloring
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups sifted cake flour (all purpose was fine. I'm sure cake flour would have been better. As always, I think King Arthur's Flour is by far the best)
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk

The order of these steps is best for most baked goods with similar ingredients. Basically, you are making a cream of the butter and sugar, combining the wet ingredients, then the dry, and adding the last two alternately to the creamed mixture.

But to be more specific:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Leave the butter out for a few hours before starting to let it "soften," as many recipes will say. Letting it soften makes for a smoother cream. Once creamed, add in the sugar and blend until smooth. Then, add the eggs, one at a time, blending just until the yellow gets fully incorporated (in chocolate cake recipes the yellow of the egg will disappear, but for this recipe it all just turns yellow)

Make a paste out of the food coloring and cocoa powder. Add to creamed mixture.

Using two separate bowls, mix together the buttermilk, vinegar and vanilla in one, and the flour, salt and baking soda in the other bowl. Add these two alternately to the creamed mixture, letting it all blend between additions. Alternating in this way keeps the batter from getting either too moist or too dry at any point.

This cake has 4 layers, so I used a full sized cake pan and cut the finished cake into fourths, but you could also use two 9" round cake pans for a two layer cake, or probably even a bundt pan, depending on what shape you want the cake. If you just want a one layer, in pan cake with icing on top, use something smaller, like 9x9.

Whatever your pan, coat the inside with butter, and throw a small handful of flour into the pan, shaking the flour around until there is a think layering of flour coating the pan. Make sure to do this thoroughly, including corners, or the cake could break as you try to get it out of the pan.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 30 minutes, more or less depending on your pan choice: a little less if using more shallow pans, and probably more like 45 minutes at 325 if you're using a bundt pan.

I also put a small dish of water into the oven while it baked. I am not really sure it helps with this kind of recipe, but my hope is that it makes the cake more moist.

Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then run a knife around the edges. Place your drying rack over top of the pan and gently flip both drying rack and cake pan together so that the cake wont break in the transition. Let cool fully, and even refrigerate it for a while before icing.

I was a little torn on the icing. I wanted to try the method that came with the cake recipe, but couldn't help adding cream cheese. This recipe turned out fluffier and lighter than the cream cheese icing recipe I usually use. It was yummy, but I think I'm sticking to mom's cream cheese icing from now on.
Here is the fluffier version I used tonight.

8 oz cream cheese, softened (left out for a while to warm up)
1 cup of butter (2 sticks), softened
5 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar (Im guessing a box of confectioners would be better)

On the stove, heat up the milk and flour, stirring constantly. After a few minutes on the stove it will suddenly thicken into a paste. Keep stirring and remove it from the heat. Maybe this is curdling the milk? Im not really sure. Either way, cool this mixture COMPLETELY before adding it to the mixture below.

Blend fully the softened butter and cream cheese. Mix in the sugar and vanilla until creamy. Add the cooled paste milk mixture.

Continue to blend this - it will grow in size as air is incorporated - until it looks like whipped cream. Refrigerate.

Decorating: To assemble, make sure both icing and cake are reasonably cool. There is a cake decorating technique called the "crumb layer" where you add a thin layer of icing to the cake and refrigerate it before adding the pretty outer decorations. This is because as you start to ice the cake, crumbs often get mixed in with the icing.

I didnt really think this was necessary for a homemade and served cake, but it might come in handy if you are going more public.

Either way, mom's best trick for decorating cakes is to use very generous dollops of icing and use a long, metal utensil to gently connect the dollops to each other. If you are layering, add a generous dollop to the center of the bottom layer, only spreading it part of the way to the edges because the weight of the top layer will spread it the rest of the way.

If you want to write on or decorate the cake, scoop some colored icing (just stir in food coloring) into one corner of a plastic bag and cut off the very tip of the corner, making a nice squeeze pen of icing.

Also, the layers kept wanting to slide off tonight, so we stuck some toothpicks in the corners. This seems kind of silly, so hopefully there is a better way. Refrigerating it for a while before adding each layer should help set the icing.

Other than that, good luck! You'll probably have to come up with your own techniques.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Oatmeal Bread (don't be fooled, its great basic white bread)

Inspired by King Arthur's Oatmeal Bread on the side of their awesome Bread Flour:
I've made it vegan, though, and changed the method a little bit.

Forgive me, no pics for now. I probably make this bread recipe most often, and didn't think to put it up until a served it at soup night (best night of the week!!!) and Mirna asked.

This is a really, really easy, basic bread. Seriously, its awesome. Tender, fluffy, and great toast bread.

3 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1 cup rolled oats (optional, though you cant call it Oatmeal bread without oatmeal. I dont want to hear any existentialist arguments to the contrary!)
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 1/4 c lukewarm water
2 tsp instant yeast (about one packet)
3 tbsp brown sugar (or honey, though honey isn't vegan. Speaking of which, Ashley I owe you an apology. I think I have fed you food with honey in it before :( but that was before I knew it wasn't vegan! Ill be way more careful in the future!!! Me sorry!)

(makes 1 loaf)


Mix together the first four ingredients in a large bowl with a fork (flour, oats, salt, and veggie oil), making sure the oil gets mixed in well. It will end up looking kind of lumpy. Form a well in the middle by pushing this mixture out to the sides.

Stir the yeast into the warm water (not hot! Yeast is alive and if the water is hot you will kill it. You jerk. Why would you do that?) and once the yeast is dissolved, stir in the brown sugar.

Pour the yeast mixture into the well you formed in the dry ingredients (or mostly dry) and using a fork, stir the liquid vigorously, slowly incorporating a little of the flour at a time until it becomes a shaggy dough.

"Shaggy dough" might sound vague, but you'll know it when you see it. Most of the flour is incorporated, but it looks rough.

Cover this with a towel and let it sit for 10-20 minutes. This allows the flour to absorb the moisture, making it easier to knead.

At this point you have two options: knead it, let it rise to almost double, knead again, shape it into a loaf, and bake it.

Or, what I think makes it better:

Knead it for 5-10 minutes until it becomes a smooth, elastic dough. Let it rise for 10 minutes, and knead for ten seconds. Repeat this three times.

THEN proceed with the normal two step rising as described below:

Add some oil to a bowl after kneading the dough for 5-10 minutes (or until it becomes smooth and elastic) and "turn the dough in the bowl", meaning make sure it is coated in oil. This keeps it from sticking too much to the bowl as it rises. Let it rise to double (this should take 45 minutes to an hour) in a warm place.

My favorite rising trick is to turn the oven on to preheat, but only let it heat for a minute or two and turn it off again. This will make the perfect rising conditions (warm, not drafty) in your oven. But don't let it get too hot, and definitely remember to turn it off. I have ruined a few loaves this way :(

After this, the first rise, "punch it down" (meaning, knead it a little bit with your fists, getting some of the large air bubbles out) and shape it into a loaf shape. Using a serrated knife, slash the top of it so that it can rise as it likes as it bakes. Its also prettier.

Place it in a greased loaf pan (9x5 I think?) and let it rise again (this is the second rise).

It will look really fluffy when it finishes this rise and if you shake the pan it will shake and look kind of fragile.

(if you "over rise" it, then your slices of bread will kind of fall apart, but will still be edible. Just go for a little less than double the original size and you should be perfectly fine)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and cook 35-40 minutes (I usually go a little longer), on the middle rack. My mom always ignores rack placement, but its actually important. You don't want the top to brown before the middle is done. If this happens, put some tinfoil over the top of the bread.

Another cool trick: place a small container of water in the oven as it preheats and at least for the first 10-20 minutes of baking. The moisture will be absorbed into the middle of the bread, making it soft, and it will also allow for a crispier crust. This is actually a trick from making baguettes, but its hard to master at home, Im told.

To test if its ready, insert a knife into the middle and it should come out dry. Also, its usually better to cook it a little longer than I think I should so that it isn't gummy in the middle. A good baker knows good bread from the sound it makes when you thump the crust. Not too hollow, not too dense. But I am still working on cultivating that skill... alas.

Make sure to take it out of the pan to cool it or the sides will be soggy. And do allow it to cool for at least 5-10 minutes before cutting in. It still needs to "set" a little once it comes out of the oven.

Note: I keep meaning to put up a Baking: Lessons Learned post, but haven't gotten around to it. Hopefully I've covered the important points here!

Also, you can just make this in an electric mixer... Its so much easier to just pour all the ingredients in, but I am really in love with the method. Just mix till smooth with the dough attachment (on a kitchen aid) and rise as directed.

another note (im sorry! I keep thinking of things to share): the words I put in quotes are common baking lingo you will find in recipes, but I try to explain them after so that you can understand more professional recipes more easily!

Avocado Salsa

This is a repeat from blackbeans and rice, but I felt it deserved it's own post. Yes, its that good. This is also more thorough.

1 ripe avocado (they mark the ripe ones at the store, if you grip it in your fist and gently squeeze it you should feel it give a little and it will leave a mark)
1 tomato
1/2 a red onion
1/2-1 lime, squeezed
a generous handful of chopped cilantro (about half the bushel they come in, minus the stalks)
note: I know cilantro is not something you keep sitting around, but DONT leave it out!!!

Note: Jennifer told me to first skin the tomatoes, but its a lot more work, though its a nice alternative style salsa. If you'd like to do so: score the bottom of tomatoes (draw an x on the bottom with your knife), drop them in boiling, salted water just until the skin starts to crack around the score (30 seconds? a minute?) and then drop them into ice water. Once you can handle them the skin will come off easily. Proceed.

Chop everything, starting with the avocado and quickly squeeze the lime overtop, stirring it with your hand, so that it will maintain its color. Oh the joys of citrus acid.

Note #2: to cut up avocado, first cut the avocado lengthwise in half. The pit will stick to one side. Thwack your knife onto the pit, lodging it into the side, and it will come out easily when you twist the knife. Leaving the avocado in the skin, use your knife to score the avocado into a grid-pattern. Finally, use a spoon to scoop the avocado out of the skin. Or read here. To keep it green, squeeze lime over top of it quickly.

Chop everything else, and use your hand to mix them together, adding salt to taste.

This is my first foray into using red onion, and I have to admit I was a little nervous. But strong flavors are more amazing than scary, so rock on bad breath. You were delicious. and fresh cilantro? I need to come up with some new positive adjectives.

Its good on almost everything: for instance, a spanish omelet this morning!

Black Beans and Rice: But really, its the Salsa

I am officially making "Jon and Mirna" a tag in my recipes. I cannot tell you how awesome it is to have Mirna (and therefore Jon) as a source for food-knowledge. Its like anything you could want, they can tell you how to make it amazing.

And who knew?! There is a fresh produce market two hundred yards from my front door!!! I have been really sketched out lately seeing people duck into this boarded up shack behind Delmar. Yeah, in that sketchy parking lot.

Yesterday, curiosity got the best of me, so I followed a biker into one of those doorways that is guarded by heavy plastic flaps. Following a biker into plastic flaps sounds sketchy, I know. But so far this week I have seen a middle aged orthodox jew, a guy with a basket on his bike, an old married couple, and a few other stragglers in and around the sketchy boarded up building. So I followed him in. Yes, I fully acknowledge this was possibly a bad decision. Yes, I will probably do the same in the future. So far, even the things that go wrong have only taught me difficult lessons, so I shall proceed.

And voila! there was a twenty foot stretch of fresh veggies!!!! For six dollars I got three avocados, four oranges, a lime, four red peppers, and cilantro. Yum. Apparently its just boarded up for the winter. Summer always proves to be less sketch.


On to the Black Beans and Rice

Vegan note: minus the sausage (which I probably wont use next time, anyway) this should be completely vegan!

Also, Its the salsa that makes it. No joke. Don't leave it off.

2 cans black beans, or the equivalent in dried beans that have been cooked
3-5 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
1-2 peppers, chopped: any kind - I used a red pepper, Mirna's had 1 green and 1 jalapeno (hers is always better)
meat, if you'd like: 2 sausages in this version, ground beef is another option
a few tbsp vegetable oil
1 bay leaf
cumin and coriander (My roommate Zen is magic and had whole dried herbs in the cabinet, but crushed is fine)
salt and pepper

Chop the onions and start them sautéing on medium - medium/high in a large pot. If they start to brown/burn, your heat is up too high, but if you don't hear them sizzling it is down too low. As they start to caramelize, or turn clear (maybe not the same thing, but both mean they're cooking) add the garlic and chopped peppers.

Meanwhile: to cook the sausage, first simmer them in about 1/2 an inch of water, turning as they cook to make sure they cook evenly. As it starts to cook the outside will turn a light, almost white color. Before it is cooked all the way through, take them out and slice them. Forgive the ugly picture, but I thought it might help. You might want to take the skin off if its thick. Mine definitely needed to have the skin off, but I didn't realize it until I was eating. It got kind of messy trying to get it off...

Once the onions and peppers have cooked down a little bit, you can push them to the outsides of your pan so that they dont keep cooking as fast and add your meat into the center of the dish. If its ground beef, keep stirring it until the pink is almost gone, or if you are using sausages cook the slices well on each side.

As the meat finishes, stir everything together and add your spices. Be generous, and make sure to slightly crush your cumin and coriander if you're using whole, dried herbs.

Let these "get to know each other" for a while, and then add your black beans (dont drain the beans from the can).

Simmer on medium low for a while.


mmmm salsa

1 ripe avocado (they mark the ripe ones at the store, if you grip it in your fist and gently squeeze it you should feel it give a little and it will leave a mark)
1 tomato
1/2 a red onion
1/2-1 lime, squeezed
a generous handful of chopped cilantro (about half the bushel they come in, minus the stalks)
note: I know cilantro is not something you keep sitting around, but DONT leave it out!!!

Chop everything, starting with the avocado and quickly squeezing the lime overtop, stirring it with your hand, so that it will maintain its color. Oh the joys of citrus acid.

Chop everything else, and use your hand to mix them together, adding salt to taste.

This is my first foray into using red onion, and I have to admit I was a little nervous. But strong flavors are more amazing than scary, so rock on bad breath. You were delicious. and fresh cilantro? I need to come up with some new positive adjectives.

Cooked Rice:
I realize this may seem really tedious, but adding together a few different pieces of advice, I really feel like my rice has gotten much better. I even stopped using the rice cooker. So I wanted to share:

Ratio: 1 c dry rice to about 1.5 c water
- if you want it a little more moist, add a little more water, but stay below a 2:1 water:rice ratio. I tend to eat my rice (especially basmati) fairly dry, so probably dont go below this ratio unless you are rinsing your rice first, giving it more moisture (see below).

I am torn on this part: You are supposed to rinse rice before cooking it to get rid of some of the gluten. But Mirna taught me to sautee the rice in butter a little bit before cooking it, and I don't think wet rice would do as well. "Wet rice" also sounds weird. It also tends to throw off my water:rice ratio. So I haven't been rinsing it.

That said, a beautiful teacher of mine once told me you should wash rice three times for maximum love in your cooking. Yay for Persian mothers.

So I am torn.

Going with the first: melt 1-2 tbsp butter in a heavy bottomed pot (the heavy bottom part is important for regulating the temperature and not burning the rice)

Pour in your rice, stirring for a few minutes with a wooden spoon to get the butter evenly spread on your rice. It will sizzle at first, but then it will stop making noise.

stir in some salt and add your water.

Bring your temperature up to medium high until the water breaks into a boil and lower the temperature to medium.

Cover the pot and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, but the cooking time will vary a lot, so make sure to check it (see below). And dont let it boil very vigorously.

You will see holes develop in the rice once the water has mostly been evaporated/absorbed. By looking down these holes you can see if there is still too much water. After 15 minutes or so, simply taste some of the rice from the top of the pile to see if it is fully cooked; meaning, not hard to chew. Do not, however, stir the rice at this point.

When it seems almost done, and there is no water left in the bottom, remove the pot from the heat but leave the lid on. Let it continue to steam itself for 2-3 minutes.

Fluff. Stack. Enjoy. (or fluff and fold, if you wish.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chicken and tomato... dish. aka: Junk from the fridge

I dont know how this turned out so yummy. Okay, yes I do. Here is how:

1 tbsp olive oil
~1/2 c chopped onion
1 can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped
1 chicken breast, cut into large chunks
1 tsp sugar
(always balance tomatoes with some sugar)
1 bay leaf
dash oregano
dash red pepper

shredded cheddar cheese
Diced avacado mmmm
cooked rice (try adding some butter as it cooks. REALLY makes a difference)

Sautee the chopped onions in the olive oil until they either start to brown (you probably have the temp up too high, but its okay) or they turn clear.

Add the rest.

Simmer for a while. 10 minutes?

Eat over rice with avacado and cheese on top.

the perfect post-3 hours of yoga meal.

Note: This was really only enough for one person.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mirna and Jon's Roasted Pepper Soup

**Note: I made this at home after Mirna taught me, but made some adjustments according to what I had in the cabinet, and it turned out to be a delicious second way to make it! I added about a cup of cashews before blending, and used 2 bay leaves and marjoram instead of thyme, used a can of cubed tomatoes instead of the Pomi sauce, only had three small red peppers, and also left out the broth, though the tomatoes had enough liquid. I tend to go for thicker soups, and really enjoyed this!**

Soup Night: the best night of the week

4-6 large red peppers
1 large sweet onion
3 cloves garlic

about 1 1/2 - 2 cups tomato puree (Jon suggests Pomi brand strained tomatoes, available at Whole Foods

- you can also use tomato paste, though you will need to add some liquid. Other tomato alternatives would probably work, too, but make sure the seeds aren't left in or it will not blend as nicely
Vegetable broth, about 2 cups
-more or less if you want to thin or thicken the soup
3-4 tbsp canola oil
1 bay leaf
some fresh thyme
salt and black pepper

cheese - try grated Parmesan or something else and tell me about it
chopped (fresh) basil and parsley
kalamata olives
(ooo, I bet tapenade would be good)

**Note: Fresh herbs (instead of dried), and those beautiful vegetables you get from fancy grocery stores, make ALL the difference

1 boiled potato
~To give the soup a more creamy texture add the potato after cooking, before pureeing the soup. Cubing it before boiling is much faster.

Roasting the peppers:
I am SO excited to finally know how to roast red peppers. I feel the world loves me.

Turn the oven to 450 degrees and rub the peppers down with vegetable oil. Sexy. Not olive oil, because the smoking temperature of olive oil is lower (about 420 for virgin olive oil and 375 for extra virgin) so it will start to break down at higher temperatures, keeping you from being able to use the high temp necessary to blacken the peppers as you roast. Just use canola oil and stop asking questions. (I'm going to try vegetable oil, too, and see how it goes)

Put the peppers on a tray and into the oven for around 30-40 minutes, turning the peppers every few minutes so that they cook evenly. When they are blackened in spots and tender, they're done. Mirna say stovetop works, too with a deep pan, but I haven't tried.

Mirna's awesome trick: take them out of the oven and into a bowl, immediately covering them with seran wrap and let them sit for about 20-30 minutes. The peppers steam themselves, making it really easy to peel off the skins.

Which you need to do.

Okay, so finally:
Chop the onion and garlic. Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a heavy bottomed pot and add the onion first. Mirna says the garlic can burn, so put it in after you sweat the onions (they turn clear).

Then, add the stewed tomato/tomatoe paste/pureed potatoes, your roasted red peppers, chopped, and the bay leaf. Simmer for 5-10 minutes. If you're using the paste you may need to add more liquid before pureeing.

Pour in the vegetable broth and the rest of the seasonings (salt, pepper, thyme), and simmer for another 10 minutes. or dont. whatever. It just makes it taste better if you let the flavors "hang out together."

If you're using a boiled potato for creaminess, add it now.

Blend the soup (definitely take out the bay leaf first) using whatever you have; bullet, blender, immersion blender... until smooth.

Top with chopped basil, parsley, cheese, and or kalamata olives as desired

Great with toasted brown bread!