I should be writing. Instead…salsa. And more salsa.

salsas

No recipe here.

Just the patience to wait a whole day as the massive tomatoes sat unclaimed on the table in our staff room.

Those babies would not go to waste. I owed it to them.  I pounced.

On most cool wet Friday afternoons, I’m more than willing to camp out in the living room with fresh Italian roast and a treat [most recently, thanks to my wife, Yotam Ottolenghi’s Semolina Lemon Syrup Cakes].

But these tomatoes called for quick action.

Standard ingredients in the salsa on the right…onion, garlic, chili powder, pepper, salt, cilantro, cider vinegar, sugar. I left out jalapenos.

The salsa on the left called for experimentation. I added sumac, a favored spice in Middle Eastern/Turkish dishes, for a lemony touch, a tablespoon of  sweetened black vinegar to join the usual apple cider vinegar, and some smoked salt.

I can’t deliver a fair verdict on the flavors until I’ve let the ingredients meld, but once again, when the culinary gods call, my writing takes a back seat.

I should be writing. Instead…lepinja.

Lepinja reduced

Continuing my flatbread kick…

My Yugoslavian friend mentioned this Serbian version called lepinja and I was intrigued.

The varied recipes online all called for three separate rises, so I did follow that instruction.

What didn’t I do? I probably didn’t flatten out the dough enough, but hey, the ingredients were mixed in the correct ratios, so I just adjusted the baking time. Result: a tender consistency. Is that the way it’s supposed to come out? I liked it too much to care.

I do agree with one baker’s suggestion to raise the oven temp as high as possible.

And I will now ask traditionalists to avert their eyes as I admit to kneading some of my homemade pesto into one of the loaves.

Here is the recipe I followed…

Enjoy!

I should be writing. Instead…Msemmen.

IMG_3118

Yes, that ‘M’ belongs there.

Depending on the web page you summon, it’s pronounced, _____

Algerian flatbread. Moroccan pancake. Take your pick.

Here is one way to pronounce msmmen.

Here’s the recipe from https://www.breadexperience.com/msemmen-algerian-flatbread-hbinfive/ .

I have to say–this is goooooood stuff.

My steps:

  1. Used whole wheat flour to create the dough.
  2. Let it sit in the fridge for two days…no make that three.
  3. Shaped it into a ball [the size of a peach].
  4. Rolled it out to one-eighth inch thick.
  5. Evenly spread a paste of olive oil, cumin, salt [just a quarter teaspoon], za’atar, and pepper.
  6. Rolled it into a log.
  7. Curled the log into a tight pinwheel.
  8. Let it rest for 20 minutes.
  9. Rolled it back out to one-eight inch thickness.
  10. Slapped it into a medium-high heat, olive oil-coated cast iron skillet. [Feel free to lower the heat to medium.]
  11. Covered it with a pizza pan to trap the heat and steam–an important step.
  12. Version two of msemmen? I used Ras El Hanout and sumac for the seasonings in the olive oil paste and folded sun dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese into the dough.Both versions worked just fine for me. And the leftovers with a little reheat? Yep! And really, so many possibilities for creating your own version of msemmen.

Finally thank you, Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg for this winning recipe. I have two of their books. I recommend them both.

 

I should be writing. Instead…biscuits. [Again.]

Yep, when in doubt, it’s biscuits.

IMG_0459

Savory biscuits bordered top and bottom by the traditional ones.

Well, that and the suggestion from my wife that, ‘gee, with all this fruit around, I think biscuits would be perfect.’.

And so, with the Beatles’ ‘Penny Lane’ playing in the background, two versions are in the oven, with the aroma of the parmesan cheese-colby cheese-chive-Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute version [a not-so user-friendly label] filling the kitchen.

Starter recipe: Sky High Wheat Biscuits from Bert Greene’s The Grains Cookbook. I can send it to you.]

As always, I can’t help but stray from the exact instructions, but I’ve used this recipe for over a decade. [Instead of 1 cup cake flour : 1 cup wheat ratio, I went with 1.5 cups all-purpose and a half cup of wheat flour.]

The other version, what one might call ‘plain’—I added an egg and some vanilla and a little extra sugar. So yes, feel free to call them ‘shortcakes’–the accompanying strawberries won’t argue with you.

As I was hand-blending the frozen butter chunks [an upper-body workout hack.], my mind drifted to my semi-recent high school reunion.

And I pondered some of the questions I would like to have posed to the folks.

No, nothing about the staged–I’m dating myself here–Godfather-themed ‘abduction’ of a favorite teacher. And nothing about the senior boys’ version of ‘Alley Top’ during intermission at a Friday dance.

Instead, I would want to know what they’ve been cooking. And when they started cooking.

After all, when many of us parted at graduation, few of had any baking, sautéing, or barbecuing skills.

So, my questions:

What are your specialties?

What events pushed you into the kitchen? A lonely Saturday night during or soon after college? Forsaken by a spouse for a weekend? Expectations of kids? Having Thanksgiving hosting duties dumped in your lap? Or how about the age-old ‘just because’?

My first ‘real’ cooking experience took place sophomore year in high school.We were supposed to contribute to a culinary celebration in French class and I teamed up with my lifelong friend. He proposed [and made] stuffed French rolls. [I know what you’re thinking. I didn’t have the heart to tell him.]

I went with chocolate eclairs and son of a gun if I didn’t whip out the Joy of Cooking and successfully crank out the cream puffs shell recipe [page 646] and follow up with some variation of a chocolate icing. [Would have been fitting to try to make Fudge Cockaigne as a further nod to the French theme, but I was probably still dumbfounded that the cream puffs recipe worked for me.]

I would love to hear of your first successful experience in the kitchen. Chime in down below. Thanks for reading.

Bonus photo: [Seems my ‘craftsy’ wife needs an alternative leaf press.]

leaves in Joy of Cooking

I should be writing. Instead…blueberry muffins, with variations.

muffins horizontal

I was going to launch a mini-rant against technology this afternoon [Safari and WordPress weren’t playing nicely], but I redirected toward wholesomeness. And comfort. And calories.

After all, frustrated writers don’t rant; they bake.

In my case, blueberry muffins. A new recipe. A simple one, since I just wanted something straightforward so we could squeeze in a little afternoon coffee. Never mind that the temps outside are in the high 90’s. When the need for ‘fresh-baked’ arises, I spring to action. [Well, not exactly ‘spring’. That would imply flexibility…agility…youth.]

Breaking news from the kitchen–[Hey, if CNN can do this 24/7, so can I.]…They’re halfway done and they’ve already earned the ‘They smell goood’ pronouncement from my wife and they look like they’ll turn out ‘normal’—a relative term in my kitchen.

What constitutes ‘normal’?

These muffins [here’s the recipe] will form fit to the muffin tin. That’s about it. Anything less than that, I add the word ‘mutant’ to the title.

Today, three of these little hummers are traditional, I’ve added a sweet ginger jam to two of them, and one of them has nary a blueberry. [Yes, a blatantly forced rhyme.] I populated it with ’60% cocoa’ chocolate chips. My wife…ever so subtle. When muffin fixins emerge, you can bet she’ll saunter by and plop some usable form of chocolate onto the counter.

Impressions

  • Good ‘blank canvas’ recipe. I will gladly reuse this as my muffin base. Add cinnamon, etc. for stone fruit muffins. Add peanut butter to join the chocolate chips. You get the idea. [Thank you, Joanne and Adam Gallagher.]
  • I used muffin-top tins today to shorten the cooking time. Again, I wanted quick results. In the future, I would use traditional tins for more moisture.
  • Ginger jam: Yep. I’d repeat this. The marriage of blueberry and ginger definitely worked.
  • Chocolate chip muffin: I bungled this one. The muffin was fine, but someone [me] turned out to be chintzy with the chips. [Divorce proceedings imminent…]
  • Everything tastes better when it’s served on my favorite ‘dog plate’.

Sourdough biscuits…and more

Continued from previous post

So what made me think the starter was ready to go?

IMG_2179

I’m not the brightest LED around [boy, did. compact fluorescents disappear overnight or what?], but, as the photo suggests, things seemed plenty alive.

And when it’s biscuit time in the kitchen, I rarely limit myself to one version.

I slapped wads** of sourdough starter into separate bowls. I took a look. Nope, I thought. That just wasn’t enough to make a difference in either batch, so I pivoted. [Pivoted…that’s one of those hot self-help terms, along with lean in, mindset and grit. Impressively hip of me, don’t you think?]
The cheese-and-za’atar version got all the starter.

Any other twists?
Why yes, as a matter of fact. I slapped in a more flavorful fat– bacon grease from the fridge. A little bit more than a tablespoon. Figured it would add a little smokiness. Considering each biscuit contained about 1/8 tablespoon, I didn’t think it would warrant a call to the cardiologist.

Moving on to the other half of the dough…Operation: Bisquettes!

bisquettes

These little hummers [raisin-and-chopped almond] added a touch of sweetness to their savory counterparts. And I was all in on the cuteness quotient as well. Okay, not so much. But I did aim for ‘popability’. You know, the ol’ ‘when you can’t eat just one’ factor.

And then there’s the traditional ‘rogue’ biscuit…

mini biscuit for b and b

This one is in honor of my past canine supervisors/kitchen islands, Boo and Bear. I’d scrape up any dough remains, sculpt a little treat like this, and squeeze it onto the tray.

There was the issue of both batches needing a little extra time to give off a little color, despite my brushing some half-and-half on the tops.
But I knew how to handle that.
“Brown, you suckers!”
My wife, stationed by the oven door, primed and ready with knife, plate of butter, suggested the recipe might have called for 450 degrees.
“Yeah…the recipe,” I said.
It’s gotten to that point with biscuits–as long as I can feel my way toward a proper wet-to-dry and flour-to-fat ratio, I’m pretty sure the result won’t disappoint.

IMG_2186

These bisquettes still needed another five minutes in the oven.

Speaking of ratios, if you want a dependable one for biscuits, check out Michael Ruhlman, who just so happens to have authored a book called Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking .

And so, the carb-fest continued and any trace of guilt drifted away with the first few bites. The honey, melting butter, and Italian roast didn’t hurt the cause either.

Next time: Paint melted butter on the tops. Another couple of teaspoons of bacon grease. More cheese, probably parmesan.

So, give biscuits a shot, but promise me you’ll aim for innovation. That’s half the fun of procrastination, after all.


**wad = palmful

 

I should be writing. Instead…sourdough biscuits.

IMG_2185True, they look more scone-like, but hey, my oven, my label.

***

There’s tons of bread in the kitchen—a nice loaf of altamura from Gathering Together Farms, some English muffins from Trader Joe’s, you know how breads tend to collect.

In our house, this can only mean one thing: Pull out the sourdough starter and add biscuits to the cornucopia of carbs. [and remembering to tuck away any paleo or South Beach-y heresy.]

More later…