Archive for the ‘Healthy Foods’ Category

Saccharomyces and me: a love story

Buckwheat Grissini

Buckwheat Grissini

There are times when cooking seems like a chore: when you’re tired, impatient, or just have other things on your mind. There are times when cooking seems like, well, cooking, a loving exercise in the care and feeding of yourself or your family. Then there are the times (and I think these are my favorite times) when cooking feels like an arts and crafts project. Baking, frosting, and decorating a birthday cake is really just a big arts and crafts project. Cookies and even the humble Rice Krispies Treats fall under that category too.

The exacting and repetitive nature of a lot of baking can turn people off. They don’t want to feel restricted by a recipe. They don’t want to feel restricted by decorating the same cookie in the same way dozens of times.

I don’t really consider myself a touchy-feely-tactile person. I don’t like slimy things, in fact, I won’t even wear my metal wrist-watch during the hot weather because it gets sticky from my perspiration. (The latter always makes me think of Grace Kelly’s heiress character in “To Catch a Thief” explaining why she doesn’t wear jewelry: “I don’t like cold things against my skin.” This was a Hitchcock movie, so the line is imbued with multiple meanings.)

Yet, give me some bread dough, and I’ll squish it and stretch it and slap it and roll it around like a little kid making mud pies. Any baker feels connected to the living, breathing organisms that bloat and puff a pile of flour and water. Every Sunday night as I make my pizza I often think that master potters have nothing on me; they’re working with a lump of clay. I’m working with millions of little yeasties, all seemingly holding their breaths at the same time so that when I bite into the crust it will be crunchy and chewy, tender enough to yield to my delicate middle-aged teeth, yet, up to the job of holding all that sauce and cheese. When the bell rings and I open the oven door for bread—or any yeasty treat—I always feel the tingle of a little miracle. Every time the timer rings a yeast cell gets it wings. They gave their lives for my slice of pie.

This past weekend I found myself in need of a little treat and a little soothing arts and crafts. I was craving savory, so I settled on Grissini. For a while back in the ‘90s any restaurant worth its salt greeted you with a stalk of home-baked grissini—usually with a mashup  of complex flavors. So while this project may seem as dated as a plate of blackened catfish, I contend that for the home baker in need of occupational therapy, baking grissini can be a soothing task.

My baking-geek passion of late has been experimenting with alternative grains. What I find interesting is that variation of flavors and texture these can lend to my yeasty treats. If 2012 was the year of spelt (which has now found a place in my weekly pizza), then 2013 has started off as the year of buckwheat.

I need to backpedal a bit here. Buckwheat is not actually a grain, it is the seed of an herbal plant. But that’s splitting hairs: do you care that the tomato is actually a fruit? No? Then you won’t care if buckwheat isn’t wheat.

I have a bag of buckwheat flour sitting in my fridge, the remnants of a blini and smoked salmon New Year’s Eve adventure. I’ve been eating buckwheat my entire life, perhaps because of my Russian-Jewish background. A bowl of Kasha Varnishkes (buckwheat with bow tie noodles) was never far away if there was a roasted chicken for dinner. My Pop enjoyed Aunt Jemima Buckwheat pancakes as a weekend treat (I don’t think Aunt Jemima makes the stuff anymore), and as an adult I have come to prize Buckwheat for its healthy dose of vegetable protein without the frou-frou of fat. Oh yeah: it tastes good too, kind of like a lighter, more moist version of cooked bulgur wheat.

So, while pulling the bag of type “00” flour I needed to bake the grissini, I spied the bag of buckwheat flour and thought, “Hmph, why not?”

A quarter cup of the flour replaced an equal amount of the white flour, but went a very long way towards darkening the dough. I was cautious as buckwheat lacks the gluten that the yeasties need to puff the dough.

The arts and crafts portion of the program involved the actual rolling of the little ropes. Too much flour on the board and you don’t get enough traction to roll them into ropes, too little and they stick and squish to the board. A little flour dusted on my hands then patted on each portion of dough was just the touch needed. The actual shape is very forgiving, as lumpy and bumpy are the order of the day as long as you make them somewhat uniform in length.

I went old school with flavorings relying on poppy seeds, sesame seeds, garlic powder, and sea salt. Happily, they bake with relative speed—about 15 minutes, but sadly, if you’re not careful they’ll disappear even faster.

They can be a bit addictive.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Click here for the Buckwheat Grissini recipe

Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Silicone for my breasts

Fast food my way

Fast food my way

Here’s a New Year’s Resolution for you: question everything you eat.

(I was going to say, “Question everything you put in your mouth,” but that sounded dirty.)

It would be easy to imagine that someone who writes a blog about baking would be…uh…ample. Generously proportioned. I have at times battled the bulge, yes, but the truth is that I do not eat the stuff you see here every day, and certainly not until it has been photographed. Worse: I’m not sure that I believe in moderation. Some stuff should be indulged in only on special occasions.

Full disclosure #1: I have a sweet tooth.

Full disclosure #2: I am vain.

Full disclosure #3: My vanity often trumps my sweet tooth. And that’s saying a lot.

I’ve been working out in a gym since I was in college, yet, several years ago after a routine, yearly physical during which I aced every test, my doctor sat me down, looked me squarely in the face and asked, “So, what are you going to do to lose some weight?”

I rebelled, but saw the light one morning when I stepped out of the shower and saw myself in the mirror. “The doctor is right,” thought I, “I look kind of…dumpy.” And as if awakened from a deep sleep, my vanity (bless its heart) took over.

Like Dorothy trying to get back to Kansas, I “…had the answer all along.” I didn’t need to pay a trainer. The kitchen is the one room I can walk into and feel perfectly confident. I can do anything in the kitchen, not just bake. (Yeah, I know. That sounds dirty too.)

No, I did not invent a cookie diet. But, over a lifetime I have learned a lot about cooking and food. As surprising as this sounds (even to me), there are people who do not understand the difference between protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Are you one of them? It’s okay.

What’s not okay is to deny the role a proper diet plays in your health. I often joke that I honestly believe that chocolate has medicinal qualities. But I don’t eat it every day. Oh, by the way, that’s no joke: I do actually believe that chocolate has medicinal qualities.

Every day I eat a good, healthful, pleasurable, diet so that when the good stuff comes along—the treats, the “special” meal, the really good ice cream—I can eat them without guilt. Over the holidays I helped my friend’s three and six-year old kids bake cookies. You think I left without indulging in the Rice Krispies Treats? Think again.

I don’t believe in diets. A co-worker recently tried a liquid cleanse. Tried, but couldn’t complete. Silly. Passive. Don’t diet. Instead, change your life. Learn what works for you. Learn what makes your jeans seem to “shrink.” Fire up the internet. Find an app for your phone. Get educated.

ANYWAY. I consider myself a picky eater. But the good news is that there are a lot of foods that I enjoy that I can eat every day. I’m the guy who can make a meal out of a can of sardines. (Let’s just say I know my way around the canned fish aisle. Some of it, like good sardines, is superfood. Some of it stinks like a house guest who has exceeded the three day hospitality limit.)(Ahem: How many friends do you have who can claim they know their way around the canned fish aisle?)

Many New Yorkers never cook a meal at home. The United States Department of Agriculture recently released the results of a study that concluded that you get more calories, more saturated fat, more salt, and less fiber when you eat out. Does this mean I never eat processed food? No. It means I pick and choose carefully, based on ingredients, the nutrition label, and my needs.

I hear you thinking. “I don’t have time to cook every meal from scratch.” Neither do I, so I don’t. That’s not the point. The point is to question everything you eat. Ask what’s in it, where was it made, and how big is that portion? I recently asked a waitress the weight in ounces of the flounder on the menu. While she looked a little surprised at the question, I knew that the chef would know. I tried it in a corporate cafeteria recently. I noticed that the woman making the sandwiches had all of the meats in portions, and yes, she had weighed each one. (Four ounces.)

Speaking of flounder: isn’t that a beautiful fillet in the picture above? That thing in which it sits? Looks like a model of the cargo bay from the Space Shuttle, yes? Actually it is a Spanish-made Lékué steamer. I enjoy steam-roasting fish, usually in parchment. Fish steamed in a pot on the stove tends to be a little bland for my tastes, but wrapped in parchment and baked in the heat of a hot oven you get the best of both worlds: the moisture of steam, and the finish from the heat of roasting or baking. I found the Lékué steamer one day while trolling the aisles at Sur la Table. It is made of silicone, and, while designed for microwave cooking, it is perfectly at home in a regular oven.

You can see I have my whole dinner in there: some peppers, a bit of buckwheat pilaf I’d made in advance, and some citrus slices to season the fish while it bakes. I come home from the gym, pop my food into the Lékué then into the oven, and it cooks while I take a shower. It cleans easily, doesn’t retain food smells, and is reusable. It’s a bit slower than parchment, but I’ve enjoyed several meals cooked in it. (No I was not compensated for this, and yes, I found the Lékué myself and paid for it out of my own pocket. No endorsement here, just a report of a happy test drive.)

Don’t feel limited to fish. Anything that might normally dry out in the oven (chicken breasts or lean beef) cooks well in a steamer. Just be sure to add some moisture like broth or light vinaigrettes to help them cook.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

The Lékué steam case and other products are available at Sur la Table and on Amazon.com

Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Meister

Honey Oat Pretzel

Honey Oat Pretzel

I never developed a taste for beer. This is kind of a shame, as I find the art of beer making fascinating. Why wouldn’t I? Beer making—the art of the brew meister—is really close to baking. They create recipes the same way I do. (That Autumn Pumpkin Pilsner didn’t just “happen” you know.) We both use yeast too, and I do love my yeast.

No, this blog isn’t about making beer at home. That brings to mind The Three Stooges, but there‘s only one of me (although clearly my barber and Curly’s went to the same school.) Supposedly my grandfather made his own root beer, something not uncommon in his day, so someday maybe I’ll give that a shot.  For now I will stick with what I know which is…uh, oh yeah: baking.

I was flipping through one of the many food magazines out there (I forget which) and saw an article about making pretzels. My immediate thought was that this would be a fun thing to do.

Then I read the article.

They were writing was about making “real” pretzels, and required boiling them in water spiked with food-grade lye (“…available in some Asian markets.”) Now, I don’t mind a complicated recipe (ok, within limits) and I don’t mind hiking down to an Asian market—not a tough chore here in New York—but I wanted and expected something more along the lines of, “Hmmm, I think I’ll make pretzels / abracadabra they’re done / break open some brewskies.”

Food-grade lye? Seriously?

I should explain my love of the pretzel. My dad was hooked on the big, unsalted ones that came in a box. They were hard as rocks, and for my Pop, I think the charm was in their granite crunch. I seem to recall that he also liked to chew ice cubes. Yes, his Dentist had battle fatigue. I think of my dad when I eat pretzels, and this is likely why I reach for pretzels when I have agita.

Then, there was The Great Pretzel Obsession of 1995. I remember it like it was yesterday: a couple of friends and I were hooked on honey oat pretzels, although I’m vague on the brand: Bachman’s, Rold Gold, or were they Snyders? They had just a hint of sweetness, and just a touch of salt. It was hard to not mindlessly eat a whole bag in one sitting. Hard, but not impossible. Ahem.

I thought it might be fun to reference that slightly sweet, slightly salty character in something I could make at home. No, my home kitchen cannot produce the crunch of a big commercial oven, but what I can do is better: something chewy and warm from the oven.

Soft, baked pretzels are a traditional big city item. Many years before food trucks my Mom bought me a soft, baked pretzel from a street cart on my first visit to New York. I actually remember that it was burnt and not very good. But its pull-apart chewiness had enough charm to last several blocks before the burnt parts and my undeveloped childhood attention span caused me to lose interest. (Thus, I was introduced to my first New York City trash can.)

A basic Fleischmann’s Yeast recipe for pretzels was my starting point; a bit of doctoring introduced a good shot of honey, and, because oats tend to dissolve into bread dough, I used oat bran for a bit of grainy texture.

I passed on anything even resembling a boiling step, and went straight to baking my little coiled delights. A little brush of egg wash helped them brown beautifully and helped the restrained dusting of sea salt stay put.

I’m not much of a drinker—this would perhaps disqualify me as a brew meister—but warm from the oven with a stein of Boylan’s Diet Root Beer these pretzels make a quiet night in front of the TV into a real party.

But, hey, that still makes me a beer and pretzels guy.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Here’s the recipe for Honey Oat Pretzels

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Tweet!

Mutiny on the Bounty

Suburban bounty

Suburban bounty

I am convinced that the compulsion to plant a garden and grow things is hard wired into us. Is this a good thing? You tell me. Growing things requires an array of talents. For some the talent lies in acquiring the needed real estate. For some the talent lies in understanding what plant life needs so that it is properly nurtured. It is a wonderful thing to be able to walk outside of one’s door, snip a few things, and feed soul and family.

You’d think Mother Nature could have made it a little easier. I know that gardening as represented by Ina Garten on TV—that brand of gardening where you grab a shiny little pair of clippers, sweep through a pair of French doors into your garden (“Isn’t it faaabulous?”) and end up with pesto –is a fiction drawn by the video editor’s magic wand.

Real gardening is that little patch of dirt you cleared away in the back yard. That little three-by-three square next to the fence where you got the dirt under your fingernails, sprinkled in the seeds from their skinny paper envelope, that sandy oasis in a desert of concrete that you checked on and fussed over each day for weeks, practically willing the first shoots to peek through the dirt. My Aunt Sarah had a garden like that, and the bounty was celebrated and boasted about and washed and eaten with relish…or as relish.

I do not make this statement from first-hand knowledge. I am a city dweller and as such my horticultural endeavors do not extend far beyond a small juniper tree that sits in my kitchen window. Mr. Juniper Tree, whose specialty seems to be looking pretty, will not be brewed for homemade gin, and is resolutely not staying for dinner.

Still, there comes a day early in the August of each year when the bounty of my non-city dwelling friends’ gardens appear on my kitchen counter. I am blessed. I am also compelled to ask, “How many damn tomatoes can I eat?”

I take comfort in knowing that the tomatoes in their tattered ShopRite bags appear before me because the people who grew them asked that same question. I am therefore, the beneficiary of bounty overrun. The tomato equivalent of the bargain book aisle at Barnes and Noble. I am the vine-ripened “Mikey likes it!” The average suburban tomato vine is seemingly so abundantly fecund, that I often feel people who want to plant a garden should get the same warning as the little kid who keeps asking Mom and Dad for a puppy: “It’s not just for Christmas, it’s for every day.”

If I were a member of a previous generation I would likely be readying canning jars and the related equipment needed to “put up” the tomatoes for winter. Back in the day that was how you ate tomatoes in the dead of winter. But I am a child of the space age: I can get anything I want, any time I want it. So the question is: what do I do with all these tomatoes now? Tomatoes look grand on my kitchen counter for a couple of days, but beyond that I’ll need to write place cards for the fruit flies that will start feasting on them. I have to act now. Or as my Aunt Sarah would have said, “RIGHT now.”

(Aunt Sarah, who is no longer around to defend herself, would nevertheless agree that she was successful at growing tomatoes not because of a green thumb but because the vines were intimidated by her.)

One of the reasons people grow their own tomatoes is that they usually do taste better than the ones you buy in the supermarket. This is mostly true, so for the first few days I eat sliced tomatoes with a few crackles of sea salt, and herb and garlic goat cheese—my preference because I find mozzarella a bit bland and goat cheese is easier on my stomach.

After I’ve had enough of sliced tomato salad, I make sauce—or gravy, as my Italian friends call it. This requires a bit of refined technique and the proper ingredients. Feel free to use this technique when cooking anything Italian. It starts with a generous dose of garlic, really good Extra Virgin Olive Oil, fresh oregano, a piquant, crumbly, Parmesan cheese, and, the most important item of all (and this is indispensible): Sergio Franchi. If listening to him sing “Volare” and “Quando, Quando, Quando” doesn’t put me in the right mood, doesn’t make me feel Italian, then I skip the project and have Chinese food. What can I say? The man was a god.

After I have made sauce—uh, sorry, gravy—I move on to a savory Tomato Tart. This is humble, farmhouse-style convenience food: make it Sunday, and you can eat it cold from the fridge for the rest of the week.

If I have been lucky enough to have been the recipient of cherry or grape tomatoes, then this confirmed old teetotaler reaches for the vodka bottle. I don’t know what it is about them, but I seem to sleep very well after eating cherry tomatoes that have been marinated in vodka. This was a party hors d’oeuvre standby about twenty years ago.

But for pure versatility Tomato Cobbler or Tomato Crisp is, I think, the best way of finishing off the tomato bounty. Of the two the cobbler is the more labor intensive, but, for your trouble, is also more satisfying. This is really just a bigger version of grilled, breadcrumb-topped tomatoes. I bake this in a soufflé dish. Toss four or five quartered tomatoes with some minced garlic, a bit too much grated Parmesan cheese, a few snips of fresh oregano, and salt and pepper into the dish. Top with some biscuit dough for a cobbler. To make it a crisp, omit the biscuit dough and substitute a generous handful or three of cracker crumbles mixed with just enough softened butter so the crumbles hold together in loose clumps. Bake in a hot oven until the top is browned and everything is bubbly. Easy, yes?

The fun there is experimenting with different kinds of crackers, although if you are a hopeless snacker (like me) you’ll end up eating the crust and realize that you are losing interest in the tomatoes.

And after all those tomatoes, that shouldn’t come as a surprise, should it?

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

“Tweet a mio per favore”

How’s that spelt?

Spelt Breadsticks

Spelt Breadsticks

My Mom is obsessed with a cinnamon roll.

This is not to be confused with the icky, sticky, cinnamon buns sold in malls. This is more from the old-fashioned breakfast roll school: barely sweet, a little crusty, and fun to pull apart. My use of the word “obsessed” is not a joke; she must have this roll with one of her meals every day. Such a story about someone my Mom’s age—and we won’t deal in the banalities of specific numbers here—brings to mind what they say about the one hundred-plus year old folks in small Siberian villages who smoke two packs of cigarettes a day: hey they lived this long, they must be doing something right.

If my tone registers with you as being a tad judgmental, it has more to do with what gets paired with the cinnamon roll than the choice of the roll itself. (The cinnamon roll comes from only one specific bakery near where Mom lives.)

Who am I to judge? For if I am to be truthful, I must admit that the little gourmet here is just as apt to do the same thing.

My Mom and I have similar food habits. Although she’s much guiltier of this than me, we can both plead guilty to being able to eat the same thing every day for months. Alas, these obsessions don’t have a happy ending. I can lunch on the same salad or sandwich daily until one day, unannounced, my appetite declares that it simply will not tolerate a repeat performance. While hardly a tragedy, I have been known in these situations to stand on a corner looking this way and that, desperately clueless about what I should have for lunch. (It usually takes a few days of interim foraging before I settle on my newest lazy lunch choice obsession.)

I say it all the time: you can put the most miserable slop in front of me, but if there’s something good in the bread basket I won’t complain. If one man’s feast is truly another man’s famine, then it would seem futile to plan a meal in the hopes of keeping everyone happy.

So, what about – like my Mom’s current bread obsession—designing the whole meal around the bread? Sure, there are sandwiches, but even with sandwiches the calculation is usually filling first, bread second. I think this may be a way to keep everyone happy. Of course, it has to be good bread.

I’ve been down the “bread as utensil” road before, and it can be a bumpy ride, indeed. It works with miraculous Indian breads like chapatti and naan, but then I could make an entire meal of just those. The bumpy ride was a meal from another part of the world where I was left bereft of satisfaction. This failed because neither the bread nor the food being scooped by the bread were satisfactory.

What if we used the bread like a combination utensil, sandwich loaf, and fondue dipper? Prosciutto with melon is a good example of this concept; antipasto, main course, and dessert, all in one slender snack. The problem here is that the melon is a bit slippery. Bread is rarely—if ever—slippery. Clearly the better choice.

People often wrap grissini, the skinny, crunchy breadsticks, with a ghostly shaving of prosciutto. This is promising. You can also make a great dipping dessert with grissini—like the Poky sticks from Japan. But grissini lack the oomph required that could make them meal worthy.

That’s why I’m nominating the hearty-but-deceptively-light Spelt breadsticks for the gig. I had never baked with spelt before. It brings the whole grain flavor and nuttiness to the bread without the weight and grit of whole wheat flour.

Many people used to think that spelt flour was suitable for those folks on gluten-free diets, but this is not true. It does have its benefits though, like the lightness I just mentioned.

The breadsticks themselves are generously proportioned, not unlike a small loaf of bread. Serve these standing like soldiers in drinking glasses surrounded by assorted antipasti ingredients, and perhaps some flavored olive oil for dipping. A nice warm weather meal, yes?

Please don’t mention to my Mom that I compared her to the one hundred-plus year old folks in small Siberian villages who smoke two packs of cigarettes a day.

She doesn’t smoke.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Here’s the Spelt Breadstick recipe.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

You’re tweet…

The Hair Dream

Grilled Semolina Flatbread with Onion Yogurt Dip

Grilled Semolina Flatbread with Onion Yogurt Dip

There’s a theatrical legend that tells of a great actor’s ability to milk applause from the audience. (I don’t remember which actor the legend describes.) Supposedly he would appear for his curtain call and milk the applause by slowly pacing from one side of the stage to another, giving his rapt attention and breathless thanks to each section of the audience. As he did this he would make note of which section’s applause seemed to be subsiding, and place his body in front of them “surprised” and “moved” by their adulation.

Overall, a good technique, and perhaps something we should all try to adapt or emulate in our own humble worlds. Why not? It’s a big tough world, and I say take all the applause and adulation you can find, no matter what the source, even for the smallest accomplishments. To that end, I am introducing something never before seen in a blog: the applause sign, something previously seen only by TV studio audiences and next to Donald Trump’s mirrors. As you read the following blog you will occasionally see [APPLAUSE] which is your cue to stop and applaud a particularly pithy thought , or me.

[APPLAUSE]

I’ve been thinking of this recently because this is the time of year when that firm grip so many folks may have had on accomplishing their New Year’s resolutions has begun to slip. Yes, your gym may be more crowded during the month of January, but like the old adage about New England weather, if you don’t like it, give it a minute.

In the meantime give yourself a huge round of applause for anything you may have accomplished since 12:00AM, January 1st. Finally put away your Christmas tree? You are a star! [APPLAUSE]

Me? I reached my first goal of the new year. I’m extremely proud and have been spending far too much time patting myself on the back. Clearly it’s time for a reward.

Oh, uh, what was my goal? My goal was to make a resolution. I’ve never done that before. This is not to say that I don’t consider myself a candidate for self-improvement (far from it). I have simply never before left resolutions for the end of the year. My usual M.O. is to make them throughout the year. Naturally this means I also fail (and succeed) at them throughout the year.

I know, I know: you’re thinking, “Making a resolution to make a resolution is cheating.” Perhaps you are right. But again, I contend that this is a tricky time of year and any and every effort must be rewarded, even if the reward is faint praise. So, thank you! [APPLAUSE] Oh, and you over there? Thank you!

What was my resolution? To grow a full head of hair. I acknowledge from the outset that there are some genetically based barriers standing between me and the successful completion of this goal. Some may say it is impossible, to which I have three replies: 1.) Never say never.  2.) You’ve obviously never had “The Hair Dream.” 3.) I didn’t define a timeline during which this must be accomplished. This includes future lives, if you are so inclined to believe that kind of thing. (Fans of Shirley MacLaine may now applaud.) [APPLAUSE] Oh! Thank you so much! Stop. You may be embarrassing me.

Frivolous? A waste of a resolution? I think not. It is “impossible” for me to grow hair, you say? Then by comparison losing a few pounds will be a piece of cake (pardon the semi-pun.) (Is Louise Hay reading this? Perhaps it will make her get off her unmotivated tush and get moving.)

Wait. You’re asking, “What’s ‘The Hair Dream’”? This is a recurring dream I (and many other bald folks) have where I wake up in the morning, go into the bathroom, and am greeted in the mirror by a reflection of myself with a full, thick, head of hair. What follows is a session of hair styling featuring every style from the last twenty years that I may have missed out on. Contrary to most happy dreams, there is no disappointment when I wake up. And if you can dream it you can do it. Right? [APPLAUSE]

Meanwhile, if your resolutions included eating more healthfully, there’s no need to swear off the kitchen, or even the fun of baking. There’s no magic here, just a little technique, and the correct choice of ingredients.

Yes, portion control is vital, but even more vital is making sure every bite counts. Pack every nibble with flavor and texture, but keep everything healthy. A tall order? Not at all.

Last weekend I spent about an hour in the kitchen and made something I can snack on guiltlessly all week. My little grilled flatbreads owe a debt of gratitude—and a dab of yogurt—to Indian Naan, but could actually come from anywhere. The leavener, baking powder, doesn’t really make the dough rise as much as it relaxes the flour making these flatbreads a snap to roll out, but durable enough to grill (indoors or out).

The small amount of Greek yogurt in the recipe leaves enough in the container to make a respectable amount of dip. No Lipton Onion Soup mix here. My magic ingredient? Spanish anchovies, which perform a bit of umami magic by lending a bit of saltiness and nuttiness to the dip before disappearing and taking any unpleasant fishiness with them as they steal off into the night.

[APPLAUSE]

Oh, stop. You’re spoiling me.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Click here for the recipe for Grilled Semolina Flatbread with Roasted Onion Yogurt Dip

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

New Year, New Tweets!

If you’re reading this you may already be late

Breakfast on the run...

Breakfast on the run...

The brisk fall morning sight of children on their way to school makes me happy. No, it is not the prospect of learning or expanding one’s horizons that cheers me; it is the bald fact that I do not have to go to school anymore. I didn’t hate school, but I didn’t love it either.

Nah. Scratch that. I hated school.

I feel guilty admitting it, for I have a great respect for education. I’d probably be a better—or at least more attentive– student now than I was when I was a kid. I have a friend, a woman of “a certain age” who just got her Master’s Degree. She confided the same thing to me, including the fact that she was now a better student. My unscientific conclusion has always been that you can break school kids into the same basic categories as adults:

Category 1: the workaholic. My high school was loaded with them, including one annoying, “straight A” soul who would refuse to look at her tests as they were handed back with the big red grade on top. When the bell rang she would frantically exit to the hall, then perform ritual leaps of joy in celebration of her A+, like it was a big, freakin’ surprise. It’s several hundred years later and, yes, I’m still bitter and annoyed. (She now works for the I.R.S.)

Category 2: the rest of us. The “…For Dummies” series of instructional guides always manage to catch our eye. I don’t want to say that I was a bad student, but I recently flunked a vision test. Honestly, I can’t study a menu without breaking into flop sweat. (Ohhhh, I‘ve got a million of ‘em…)

I know that there are many of you out there who feel at home in this category.

The interesting thing is that being in one category as a kid doesn’t guarantee that you’ll end up in the same category as an adult. The workplace is littered with formerly indifferent students who now consistently take the later train home because they have “… just a little bit more to do.” I wish I’d been a better student, but as an adult part of me rejoices that I will never be labeled a workaholic. There’s so much other stuff to do…

Like you, I had a ten mile commute to school through forty inches of snow in one hundred degree heat. Uphill. Both ways. I would forestall my departure by eating a healthy breakfast. Our cook would have my pancakes, eggs, and bacon ready just the way I liked them, and I would…okay clearly I’ve gone off the rails here. I wrote the word “forestall” and everything went blurry.

The truth is I have only vague memories of eating breakfast when I was a kid. I know I did, but beyond the concept of a bowl of cereal the specifics are hazy. Wheaties? Cheerios? Cap’n Crunch? I’m really not sure. There may have been an experiment with instant Cream of Wheat, but that was short lived. We had a breakfast nook, but I think we used it to eat dinner and to watch my Dad’s 8mm home movies. Harrumph: a whole section of my life haphazardly executed.

Now I am much more deliberate about my breakfast choices. Will I get hungry too soon before lunch? Will it make me fat(ter)? Can I work and eat it at the same time? I look around and watch what others are eating for breakfast and notice with a great amount of apprehension that folks seem to be looking for one vital element in their breakfast: a kick start. Lordy, when did Coca Cola become the breakfast of champions?

No kick start for yours truly; if I wanted that I’d pay someone to slap me across the face a few times. (Don’t even try it.) Slow and steady is more my style. It works for me and I find that most mornings I am fully awake by 1 PM.

Still, I find my busy schedule sometimes doesn’t allow me to linger over breakfast. The question is: short of gruel-like instant oatmeal, what is a supercharged healthy breakfast that I can eat on the run? A chum swears by toast with a swipe or two of peanut butter. I need a bit more entertainment than that in the morning. I have devised my “best in show” breakfast on the run.

I almost resent the health benefits of oatmeal; Quaker oatmeal is practically advertised as an alternative to Lipitor. But I can put my crankiness aside long enough to include it as part of my breakfast. Thumbing through my beloved old copy of The New York Times Cook Book by Craig Claiborne I found a recipe for “Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Bread.” Oatmeal bread has always been a favorite of mine. Usually only mildly sweet, yet slightly dense, this recipe has a delicate crumb and a toasty crust.

Yes, I understand that the thought of baking bread gives most people pause. But if you are in possession of a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer bread making requires very little work and very little expertise. Yes the entire process takes several hours from bag of flour to loaf of bread, but most of that time you can do other things.

I also substituted almond butter for the peanut butter my chum uses. This was a choice dictated only by taste, and I also topped the almond butter with slices of green apple. The combination is almost pastry-like, but you can feel smug in the knowledge that the entire affair is very healthy. You can use any kind of apple you prefer, but I use green apple in the morning on the advice of a friend who is a singer. Green apples have an astringent quality that can help clear your throat of impurities.

That’s good news as a clear throat can help me maintain my phlegmatic demeanor through the rest of the day.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Click here for the recipe for Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Bread.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Help me #trend: Tweet this blog!

The Joys of Applesauce

Making applesauce

Making applesauce

My odd sense of humor has reared its ugly head: “The Joys of Applesauce.” For some reason this has me laughing hysterically. It’s like a chapter from some now obscure 1950’s home ec handbook. The subject of applesauce came up the other day when I started having cravings for Apple Turnovers.

I’m not sure how or why these cravings come over me. This time it could be that my internal calendar and the one on the wall both agree that it is September. It could be that I was minding my own business the other day and stumbled upon the little greenmarket that happens every week across from Lincoln Center. Now that I walk through these greenmarkets more often, I’ve really started to notice the cyclical nature of the offerings. Like some whimsical botanical fashion show, breezy cottons (i.e., tomatoes) have moved off to the marginal tables, while woolens (i.e., apples) have taken center stage.

It may be those very apples that implanted in my mind a craving for hot apple turnovers, straight from the oven. I can practically smell them as I type this sentence. I happened to mention those cravings to a friend who reminisced that his Mom used to serve them hot, straight from the oven, courtesy of Pepperidge Farm.

As much as I crow about baking from scratch, I have to admit that I used to love those too. It’s been years since I had them, but the memories are still as warm as the spicy apples inside the flaky crust. While I’m not crazy about some of the ingredients they use, Pepperidge Farm has one big advantage over my making them from scratch: theirs turn out okay, mine #fail (as the kids write on the Twitter these days.)

Yes, I still struggle with pastry dough. I could blame it on many external factors: my kitchen is too small, my kitchen is too hot, my dog ate my homework, but I think the truth is I just need some practice. I just don’t have a feel for it yet, and in baking and cooking you cannot underestimate having a feel for certain things. I’ve watched any number of folks on TV rolling out seamless, smooth, gigantic sheets of pastry dough that never stick. My pastry dough practices the unholy trinity of crack, crumble, and stick. (Sounds like a bad law firm.)

I suspect that I am too skimpy with the amount of water I add, but specifics aside, my failed Apple Turnovers served as a reminder that I should never get too confident in the kitchen, as there’s always a recipe waiting to take me down a peg.

That’s not to say that I didn’t make Apple Turnovers. I did. There’s a joke that should go here about being able to do something with one hand tied behind my back, I’m just not sure what the joke is, other than the sight gag of seeing my Turnovers. (Gag being the operative word here.)

Yes, the dandy thing about baking is that you can eat your mistakes, and the Turnovers remain in my refrigerator daring me to do so. Sadly though, my feelings towards these failed Turnovers are like a page out of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Ugly Duckling.” Only one page though, as these Turnovers will never grow to be swans. (Gee, I hope they can’t read.) (Actually they weren’t bad cold the next day)

It’s not all bad news though. Unlike baking pie, when you make Turnovers you usually get the best results if you cook the fruit first. In this case it meant that I needed to make applesauce. In my mind, I somehow think of applesauce as some slow-simmered, long cooking concoction. In reality I worked for a few minutes, the apples simmered for a few minutes, and the result was an ad-libbed, layered, refreshing alternative to the applesauce you buy in jars.

Because the original purpose was to fill the Turnovers, I cut the peeled apples into rather large chunks—no baby food smoothness here. I was using four Rhode Island Greening apples, a tart, green apple, so I peeled them. If you use red apples there can be some value in leaving the skin on and letting it tint the sauce.

I also added a couple of teaspoons of sugar, the juice and zest of a lemon, a teaspoon of frozen concentrated orange juice, ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon, and the seeds scraped from a whole vanilla bean. It all bubbled and squeaked for eight or nine minutes.

After my pastry dough crumbled into dust, I was left with a pot of this applesauce. Rather than feeling cheated, I felt rewarded by this: the glass was half full, thank you. This chunky apple sauce makes a great quick dessert shortcut. Serve it warm over some vanilla ice cream, or topped with some buttered, sugared, breadcrumbs then baked in a small crock. (Cue the ice cream again.)

These, of course, are only some of the joys of applesauce.

Up next: “An Ode to Tapioca.”

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

After dinner tweet anyone?

Flower Power

Squash Blossoms

Squash Blossoms...hard to find / easy to cook

I was recently admonished by a trusted friend that some of my recipes are too involved—too many ingredients, too many steps. (An admonishment is like a scolding without the finger wagging.) But here’s the thing: for me, the kitchen is an oasis, especially on a hot summer day when I have my A/C cranked to “meat locker”. I don’t mind a few extra steps. Even if I am listening to music or watching TV while I cook, I generally tune those out and get a lot of very important thinking done while I, say, boil sugar (alarmingly, one of my favorite pastimes).

This all reminds me of a time when I changed jobs and had to train the person who was taking my place. Not to cast anyone in a negative light (too late), but it was a difficult transition. She just didn’t understand any of the work she was inheriting and, like a big, fat, dumb salmon, kept swimming against the tide. The lesson I learned – and hopefully she also learned (although I know she didn’t)—was that I can only demonstrate how I do something. It may not be the best or most optimal way, but it’s how I got the job done. So there.

What you see when I cook is a work in progress—both the cook and the cooked. So sometimes I go out on a limb to learn something new or try something new.

(Defensive anyone?)

But speaking of easier recipes, a few days ago an errand took me a little out of the way. I found myself very hungry, and, happily, in the middle of a farmers’ market. The farmers’ markets here in Nueva York can be touch and go. Example: this one featured a booth where someone was selling maple syrup (provenance unknown) in bottles shaped like the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately I already have that bottle in my Maple Syrup Bottle Collection.

But as I turned to step down the subway stairs I spotted a couple of tables selling the type of stuff I like to find at a farmers’ market: fresh currants, and, one of my all time faves, squash blossoms.

Currants are a great ingredient (especially for someone who likes to boil sugar), because they make great preserves, or a great glaze for chicken. They’re a little on the tart side uncooked, but I thought they’d be fun stewed and added to an eggy vanilla ice cream as it freezes. Fresh Currant Ripple is most definitely not something you find at Carvel.

Ah, but Squash blossoms? For a city boy these are like bringing the farm into my little urban kitchen. They are that breath of fresh country air I always imagine you get when you get out of the car at the farm after a long drive from the city.

(How naïve. That first breath of country air you get at the farm actually smells like…well…there are cows and horses and chickens there. Smells like a farm. Or like New York on a hot, summer day.)

Maybe the novelty (to me) is that squash blossoms have remained a true farm product; they are too perishable for supermarkets. Like fiddle ferns, they always seem (to me) like something you luck into.

They’re kinda groovy, relaxed, and they look like hippies dressed in tie-dyed psychedelic orange. These are the flower that blossoms from tops of squash as they grow. I’ve never grown squash; perhaps if I did I’d take them more for granted.

Okay, maybe not the easiest ingredient to find (I can already feel the breeze from the finger wagging I’ll get), they are however, easy to prepare. These are very informal preparations. In fact, I learned these when camping out one summer as a kid. Take your pick: savory or sweet.

You may have had something similar to the savory kind on Super Bowl Sunday when you’ve been served Jalapeño Poppers. For this recipe you simply throw some ricotta cheese, garlic, anchovy, salt and pepper to taste in a food processor, and whirr until combined. Fill the blossoms and then dredge in flour. Pan fry in canola oil quickly, just until the flour starts to brown. Drain on paper towels and eat while still warm. Cooking through isn’t really the point here, this is just to add to the overall flavor.

The sweet variety is just as simple. Combine ricotta and just enough confectioners’ sugar in the food processor so that the cheese is only mildly sweet, say about a tablespoon or less to a cup of ricotta. Stuff the blossoms with the cheese and pan fry as above. Dredge the filled, fried blossoms in cinnamon and sugar as soon as they come out of the pan. Let these cool to just warm and serve as a special dessert or treat.

This is the part where I tell you how I did things. These ideas are optional. First, I use Wondra flour to dredge the blossoms. You may have seen this stuff in the supermarket packaged in a tall blue canister. Wondra is a very powdery flour that chefs swear by for dredging.  You can also use it to thicken gravy. I like it because it makes a very light, slightly crisp coating, an important concern with our delicate blossoms.

Second, I fill the blossoms with a pastry bag and nozzle. It’s just easier for me, but please feel free to use a spoon.

Groovy, huh?

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Tweet me. (Please.)

My Revolution

Eight Grain Hamburger Rolls

Ready for the backyard...if I had one.

I don’t like to write about politics in this venue. A friend of mine—much wiser than I—is fond of saying, “If you want to send a message call Western Union.” He’s usually talking about plays, TV shows, or movies that are used as vehicles to put forth a political or moral argument. I tend to agree when it is done poorly. But if you succeed in entertaining me, then I say, go ahead and preach.

It can be easy to dismiss these messages. Personal zealotry can be just as repellant as it can be appealing. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I had never given Jamie Oliver, the young British chef and restaurateur much thought. Fact is I’ve never given most celebrity chefs much thought. Do I think they are talented? Absolutely. Do I care? Nyet. I am most assuredly not a restaurant foodie; unlike most New Yorkers I prefer to eat at home. (I could have titled this posting, “Never Been To Nobu”.)

Yet there I am, in front of my TV each week watching “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.” Didactic? Yup. Preachy? Affirmative. And totally my cup of tea because I am totally in step with the message being tooted.

The show, an extension of a program he started in the UK, follows Oliver’s “man vs. the machine” quest to improve the eating habits of America’s children, starting with the food they eat in their schools’ cafeterias. Last season concentrated on a couple of schools in Huntington, West Virginia; this season he has picked a bigger rock to roll up hill: Los Angeles.

In an age when TV executives seem unable to provide anything better than endless competition shows (“America’s Next [Fill In The Blank]”), freak shows (“Hoarders” which I think of whenever too much time has elapsed between apartment cleanings—so, often), and cotton candy (anything Kardashianic), one has to wonder how “Food Revolution” ever made it to network television. No one gets voted off. No one throws a glass of wine at anyone. No one is designing a line of jeans.

The closest the show has ever gotten to the voyeuristic realm of reality television was last week’s brief glimpses of Oliver’s family in the kitchen of their rented LA home which showed his baby daughter mesmerized by turning the faucet on and off with her feet. (I thought it was sweet, cute, and very funny. And yes, I am a sap.)

The answers are likely a combination of the show’s Executive Producer, that twenty-first century show-biz virago, Ryan Seacrest, the family-friendly Disney owned ABC, and the fact that the British version of the show was a hit.

What amazes me is the fact that the changes he wants to make are considered a revolution. Last year in West Virginia he noted that the only milk choices were Chocolate or Strawberry – both contain the equivalent of 3 to 4 teaspoons of sugar. He fought to get regular milk in the cafeterias—and lost.

When I was a kid (lo those many years ago) the schools served us a little half pint of regular milk each day. Ice cold. It was delicious—and I’ve never been a big milk drinker. Every once in a while there were kids who added a spoonful of Nestlé’s Quik, but for the most part they were the exception, not the rule.

I ride the subway and notice with increasing alarm the increasing size of our youngsters. When I was a kid if you were overweight you were ostracized because most kids were skinny until they hit their teens. Is overweight the new normal? Are we raising a “Big Gulp” generation? When did a tanker-sized cup of soda become the normal serving?

There are as many theories of what has caused the so-called “epidemic” of childhood obesity as there are people. I’m not claiming to know the answer, but I’m convinced that people have been overwhelmed by information: everything is bad for you, therefore, what’s the difference? Order whatever you want—sauce on the side.

Where, you ask, does a man who writes about baking and sugary treats get off attacking sugar? A valid question. The idea isn’t to make cake disappear. The idea is to eat good cake, made from quality ingredients, and as part of a healthy diet. It’s a treat not dinner.

In Los Angeles this season, Oliver isn’t trying to make burgers disappear. He is helping a guy who owns a typical LA drive-through burger joint change the quality of the ingredients he uses—ranch-fed beef, good sauces, and whole grain rolls. The trick is to make sure that the guy who owns the drive through continues to have a thriving business even though the ingredients may cost more. (He seems to have succeeded.)

Listen, I don’t know Jamie Oliver. I don’t know what compelled him to adopt this cause. But I sure do admire the work he has done. I admire the work Alice Waters has done with her Edible Schoolyard program where she has set up school gardens. The students raise the vegetables which are then used in their lunches. Maybe if kids get closer to understanding where their food comes from they’ll make better choices? (Question mark intentional.)

I thought it would be fun to recreate the Revolution Burger at home, at least in concept. The organic farm-raised beef was the easy part—Fairway Market here in New York took care of that. My responsibility was to create a hamburger roll that would make Jamie proud. Seven grains? Feh! I used eight!

A really good burger sitting on a rock hard roll is no one’s friend, so I knew I needed to make a roll that had some squish and richness. I “appropriated” an idea from America’s Test Kitchen: use cooked eight grain cereal in the dough. This is brilliant because uncooked whole grains can be too hard to digest while making the roll too dry to enjoy. Further, I cooked the cereal in milk which added richness to the dough. (Bread made with milk also tends to have a toastier crust.) A touch of honey brought out the sweet fragrance of the grains.

The result has the heft of whole grain and the squish and sweetness of plain ol’ hamburger rolls.

If you know Jamie, pass this along and ask him if he approves.

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Click here for my recipe for “Eight Grain Hamburger Rolls

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Go ahead: tweet this posting. Tweeeet…

Follow ButterFlourBlog on Twitter
Archives
Categories