Thursday, August 30, 2012

Easy Graham Cracker Almond Bars

Oh boy, do I love how easy these bars are to make. Well, I love how good they taste even more, but their easiness comes in a close second on my happiness list. One hardly even has to measure anything. Nor does one have to do anything tricky. These are easy, easy, easy!

This recipe came from an issue of Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazine. I really didn’t change anything in my version below, except to point out that the amount of graham crackers you need is just one of the plastic-wrapped, brick-shaped packages inside a box. I also scaled down the sliced almonds ever so slightly, just so the amount you need can be purchased in a supermarket in a conveniently available package. At least I found a name brand package in that size. (If you cannot, just measure out 1 ¾ to 2 cups from the package or bulk purchase you have.) Since the required can of sweetened condensed milk is also commonly available, you’ll only have to measure the salt. And let’s be honest, a couple pinches will do.

This recipe is a great gateway into sweets for a novice baker. I think it would be a good one for kids to get involved with as well. I used a food processor to make the graham cracker crumbs, but you could put them in a zip-top bag and crush them with your hands or with a rolling pin. I made my crumbs finer than I needed to. You could make yours crumblier, which would make them even easier for little hands to help with pulverizing.

These bars have a wonderfully complex flavor and texture for how easy they are to make. The sliced almonds lay themselves down in crunchy horizontal layers that are surrounded by a chewy baked graham cracker crumb and condensed milk emulsion. They’re quite sweet and a little caramel-y and, for me anyway, utterly addictive. I have a hard time eating just one of these. In fact, we ate these so quickly, I almost neglected to photograph them in the daylight.

I think there must be many, many ways this recipe could be varied. I’m already thinking they could be turned into s’mores bars by substituting mini marshmallows and chocolate chips for the almonds. Or one could make something decadent (that my husband wouldn’t eat) by using coconut and chocolate. Since graham crackers are a nice blank canvas for other flavors on their own or in other forms, I think this basic recipe could be too. And, these bars are so easy, trying different options should be nearly effortless.


By the way, have I mentioned that this recipe is really easy?

Graham Cracker Almond Bars
Adapted from Martha Stewart Every Day Food magazine

1 inner wrapped package graham crackers (about 5 ounces or 150 grams)
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
6 ounces (about 1 ¾ cups) sliced almonds, divided
¼ teaspoon (1 ml) salt
1. Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.  Spray the parchment with nonstick cooking spray.

2.  Crush or pulverize in a food processor the graham crackers until they are coarse crumbs.

3.  In a medium bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sweetened condensed milk, about 1 ¼ cups almonds and salt. Stir until the graham cracker crumbs are well moistened.

4.  Spread the graham cracker mixture evenly into to the prepared baking pan.  Sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup almonds.  Press the almonds gently into the batter mixture.

5.  Bake at 350 F for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean and dry.  Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

6.  When cool, remove from the pan and remove the parchment paper.  Cut into squares to serve.

Makes about 12-16 servings.  Keep in an airtight container at room temperature.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Chicken Wraps with Slaw

This is a summery and refreshing wrap sandwich that I’ve made before, but it had been a while. I had plenty cabbage left over from a huge farmer’s market find, and I was looking for a tasty place to use it. I also had plenty (plenty!!) of mint from my own somewhat-controlled planting. The original recipe called for poblano chiles, which I love, but I happened to have a large green bell pepper, also from the farmer’s market, and plenty of jalapenos from my own garden. I figured that together, they’d make a suitable substitute for the poblano. After all, poblanos are kind of like skinny, spicy bell peppers. A mix of bell peppers and jalapenos ought to fool a simple wrap sandwich, ought it not?

This wrap is basically a layer of boldly flavored cabbage slaw topped with grilled chicken (or chicken cooked however you want to). The slaw is a bit intense to be served on its own as a side salad, but some chicken and a tortilla balance that intensity quite well. You could use some other protein if you want. I think this would be a good base for a fish taco if that’s how you prefer to roll.

The original recipe contained all lemon juice, but I thought some lime would be right at home. It did turn out to be a good flavor addition that goes well with the chile and mint, but I think that if you use what you have, whether it be lime juice, lemon juice, or even orange juice or a mild vinegar, you’re still going to have a great slaw for your wrap. The slaw is a bit juicy, so I’d recommend allowing the vegetables to stand in the dressing for a while to absorb the flavors, then draining a lot of that dressing when you place the slaw on the tortilla to avoid a sloppy sandwich.

This is a relatively simple dish to put together for all the flavor punch it gives. The leftovers are good, too. Just store the slaw and chicken separately and assemble the wraps when you get hungry. It also worked well to make a wrap with well-drained slaw, bundle it tightly in plastic wrap and carry it in a rigid container as part of a brown-bag lunch. Well, my lunch bag is pink, but you get the idea. And this idea has an open field of variations available, especially if you have an open field of great vegetables to choose from for your slaw.

Chicken Wraps with Spicy Citrus-Mint Slaw
Based on a recipe in Cooking Light, May 2003

I used grilled chicken breast to make my wraps, but you could use chicken cooked however you like or even a different protein.

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh lime
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons sugar
3 cups thinly sliced cabbage
1 cup thinly sliced bell pepper
½ cup chopped fresh mint
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and thinly sliced
about 2 large skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, seasoned and cooked as desired and cooled
flour tortillas 

1. Combine lemon juice, lime juice, ginger, and sugar in a large bowl and whisk to combine.

2. Add the cabbage, bell pepper, mint and jalapeno. Toss well to coat. Let stand for 20 minutes or so if you have the time, tossing occasionally.

3. Thinly slice the cooked chicken. To assemble the wraps, drain some of the slaw of dressing (to avoid sloppiness). Spread the slaw on a flour tortilla. Place a few chicken slices on top of the slaw layer and roll up.

Makes about 6 wraps with “burrito-size” tortillas. Store leftover chicken and slaw separately and assemble wraps as needed.

One year ago: Apricot and Raspberry Tart with Crumble Topping

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Potato Salad with Fresh Vegetables

I get excited about pretty simple things. Like compost (no photo available, you’re welcome). Like volunteer pumpkin vines with at least 7 pumpkins on them.

Like the fact that you can go so many different ways with potato salad. Since I’ve been posting way too infrequently this summer, it was actually quite some time ago that I made this light potato salad with simple rice vinegar dressing, fresh vegetables and olives. This dish is still quite appropriate to the season, perhaps even more so than when I made it. There are lots of great cherry tomatoes available around here (specifically in my garden, right next to the pumpkin patch) as well as bell peppers and cucumbers.

I used green bell peppers because really large and delicious ones have been available locally, but the bells in brighter colors (orange, red, yellow) are sweeter and maybe even prettier.  I also had some small, locally grown “new” potatoes that had plenty of nice, creamy, earthy flavor of their own.

Really, exactly which type of potato or what kinds of vegetables you use are a matter of personal taste and availability. Each of the lines in the list of ingredients below could begin with the word “about” (or “approximately” if you’re more sophisticated.) Tossing together what looks good and what tastes good and adjusting the seasonings is probably the best way to go for simple summer salads. Not only is that a great way to celebrate summer produce, but it’s also a great way to take it easy. Summer salads don’t need to be obsessed over, after all. They should be laid back and stress free. And, with its relatively small amount of oil and complete lack of mayonnaise, this one can be guilt free as well.



Potato Salad with Fresh Vegetables and Black Olives
Adapted from Cooking Light April 2008

Scallions would be a nice replacement for the onion.

1 ½ pounds small potatoes
¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 cup chopped cucumber, peeled if skins are tough or greased
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1 cup chopped bell pepper
¼ cup chopped onion
¼ cup finely chopped (or torn) fresh basil
½ cup sliced ripe olives

1. Place the potatoes in a large pot of cold water to cover by a few inches. Bring to a boil and cook
until the potatoes are just tender. Drain and let stand until cool enough to handle.

2. To prepare the dressing, combine the rice vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Whisk to combine.

3. When the potatoes are still a little warm, cut them in halves or quarters. Add them to the bowl with the dressing. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to coat. The warm potatoes will absorb the dressing more than cold potatoes would. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper or vinegar if desired.

Makes about 10 side-dish servings.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Rosemary Raisin Rye Bread

Well, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to post as often as I would have liked, but away from these pages for a whole two weeks? That’s just a darn dirty shame! At least there’s been a break in the hot weather, so it’s a bit more bearable to talk about baking something. Like a loaf of bread with rye flour, raisins, and fresh rosemary.

In the past, I’ve had some difficulty getting the stone-ground rye flour I like to work itself into a loaf of bread without any brick-like tendencies. I thought maybe I could use a lighter, more finely-ground rye flour, but, alas, there was none to be found in the supermarkets. Really? Nobody sells plain ol’ rye flour anymore? Huh. Well, the stone-ground flour is fragrant and flavorful and has a high Whole Food Quotient (WFQ), so I decided it was probably better than any heavily-refined stuff anyway. I could make it work.

The problem I seemed to have in the past was that the rye flour would suck up all the water in the bread recipe and make a very stiff dough that was hard to knead and didn’t rise very well. I probably changed too many variables at once, but when I made this bread, I tried to solve my texture problems by 1) Using a relatively small amount of the rye flour, 2) Letting the stiffness of the dough dictate how much more flour to add while kneading, keeping the dough fairly wet, and being ready to add more water if necessary, and 3) Using a heavy-duty electric mixer with a dough hook to do the kneading of this moist but still stiff dough.

This all seemed to work for me. My resulting loaf of bread rose well and was light and soft when baked. Most importantly, however, it was delicious.  I must have made this bread before, judging by the typed and printed recipe sheet in a 3-ring binder that usually indicates that such is the case, but I couldn’t remember how the rosemary and raisins tasted together. Now, I’d say they’re delicious together. The raisins bring the bread a little to the sweet side of things, but the rosemary pulls it back a little more toward savory. As a result, I think this bread could be used in a variety of both sweet and savory applications from accompanying a pasta dish to French toast or bread pudding.

I sincerely hope that this cooler weather holds out….and that I can find the time…to bake some more of this bread. With its high ratio of bread flour to whole grain flour, it might not have as high of WFQ as it could, but it’s uniquely delicious loaf.

Rosemary Raisin Rye Bread
Adapted from several sources

As always, you could probably forgo the use of an electric mixer and knead this dough by hand, but I recommend still trying to keep it somewhat sticky as you knead.

I think you could use other whole-grain flours or a multi-grain mixture in place of the rye flour.

1 cup warm water (about 100 F)
2-2 ¼ teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
¾ cup stone-ground rye flour
2 cups bread flour (or as needed), divided
1 tablespoon vital gluten flour
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
¾ cup raisins
Nonstick cooking spray 

1. In the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer combine the water, yeast and honey. Let stand for about 5 minutes or until the yeast is foamy.

2. Add the olive oil, rye flour, 1 cup bread flour and gluten. Mix to form a wet batter. Cover the bowl with a towel and let stand for 15-30 minutes. The batter should appear puffy and bubbly.

3. Add the salt and about ½ cup of the remaining bread flour. With the dough hook, knead the dough about 10 minutes or until somewhat smooth and stretchy. Gradually add the remaining flour as you knead, but try to keep the dough a bit wet and sticky.  If you have as much as ¼ cup flour remaining and the dough is already very stiff, add a little more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, to make a moister dough.

4. Knead in the rosemary and raisins. Shape the dough into a ball. Spray a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray. Place the dough ball in the bowl and spray the top of the dough. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough and cover the whole thing with a towel. Let stand for about an hour our until roughly doubled in size.

5. Gently deflate the dough, shaping it into a smaller ball again. Cover and let stand about 5 minutes. Shape the dough into a long, narrow loaf.  Place on a baking pan coated with cooking spray or lined with a silicone mat. Cover with a towel and let stand 45 minutes to 1 hour or until roughly doubled in size.

6. As the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375 F. Remove the towel and cut several slits in the top of the dough with a sharp knife, being careful not to deflate it. Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes or until the bread tests done. Cool on a wire rack.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sauteed Kale and Baked Eggs

I don’t know whether the last 18 months or so will stand out in my memory for being so odd, or if some self-defense mechanism will cause me to shut them out forever. Either way, I hope that come next spring, I remember that it’s a good idea to plant kale in my backyard garden. The Red Russian variety that I planted early didn’t seem like it was going to do much when just a few seeds germinated and then, as it warmed up, the insects moved in. My little bed of kale was resilient, however, and I now have more than enough to eat. More than enough for those recipes that call for seemingly impossible armloads of the stuff.

I didn’t actually start with one of those recipes for this dish, but one contributed by Yotam Ottolenghi (the absolute monarch of fabulous vegetable dishes) for Bon Appetit magazine. This original recipe called for lots of spinach instead of kale. Since the kale worked well even though it is much less delicate than spinach, I think you could use whatever variety of greens you have available whether from the supermarket, farmer’s market or, growing well in your garden.

This recipe basically involves sautéing mounds of greens with onions (I added garlic to mine), then creating little nests within the greens to crack open an egg. The whole thing goes into the oven to bake the eggs, then it is served with a drizzle of chile oil. The original recipe called for a dollop of garlic-flavored Greek yogurt as well, but all I had was vanilla yogurt, so I replaced it with sour cream. (I failed to photograph the dish with the sour cream on it, so you’ll just have to imagine it.) Really, if you want things to be simpler, you could save some time by eliminating the chile oil or the sour cream as accompaniments.

I highly recommend at least pulling out a carton of sour cream or plain yogurt for serving this, however, even if you don’t want to take the time flavor it with a garlic-salt paste like I did. The cool and creamy contrast is wonderful with the eggs and kale. I made the chile-infused olive oil with a fresh red chile pepper (also prolific in my garden). It was simple to do and adds just a hint of pure hot spice to the dish when drizzled on a serving. (If you bite into a piece of chile, however, it is more likely to be very spicy.)

I love sautéed greens, especially with garlic, and baking eggs in a bed of greens is really a nice, simple way to make a complete meal out of them. The eggs are neutral but rich and allow the hearty, slightly bitter kale (actually, my Red Russian kale is still more tangy than bitter despite the heat in which it’s been growing), onions, garlic, and spice from the chiles in the finishing oil to provide the main flavors and a lighter texture. And as I said, the garlicky sour cream that I added was a delicious contrast.

Sauteed Kale with Baked Eggs
Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine

This recipe is a basic method that could be made with a variety of greens and accompaniments.

½ cup sour cream
2 large garlic cloves, divided
¾ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt, plus more to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small chile pepper, thinly sliced
½ cup sliced onion
8-10 cups chopped kale leaves, stems removed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4 large eggs 

1. Place the sour cream in a small bowl. Chop ½ clove garlic. Sprinkle the chopped garlic with about ¼ teaspoon coarse salt. Continue to chop and press the garlic and salt into a slightly rough chopping surface to create a smooth paste as described in this post.  Stir the garlic-salt paste into the sour cream. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

2. In a small saucepan, pour 3 tablespoons olive oil. Heat over medium-low heat until hot and shimmering. Add the chile pepper and sizzle for about 2 minutes. (If the chile begins to brown before 2 minutes, remove from heat.) Remove from the heat and let stand until ready to serve.

3. Preheat oven to 300 F. Chop the remaining 1 ½ cloves garlic. Set aside.

4. Pour the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil into a 10-inch (or larger) oven-proof skillet. (I used cast iron.) Heat over medium heat until hot. Add the onion and sauté about 5 minutes or until soft and just beginning to brown. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more.

 5. Add the kale, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and lemon juice. If the kale does not fit in your skillet (which is quite likely) add it to the skillet a little at a time, adding more as it cooks down. Cook about 10 minutes or until all the kale is wilted and softened. Remove from the heat.

6. Smooth out the surface of the cooked kale and make 4 evenly-spaced indentations. Crack each egg into one of the indentations. Bake at 300 for 10-15 minutes or until the eggs are done. The whites should be set and no longer transparent. Serve each egg on a bed of kale. Drizzle with the chile oil and top with a few dollops of the garlic-infused sour cream.

Makes 2 large or 4 medium servings.

Another recipe like this one: Potato and Celeriac Casserole with Baked Eggs