Archive for the ‘Food History’ Category
Yes, I said deliciousness. No other nut makes me as happy as pecans. In fact, when I travel down South, I try to find a place to buy pecans in bulk to take home. The problem with pecans, you see, is that they’re also one of the most expensive nuts around (I think the most expensive ones are macadamias and pignolis). But they are cheaper in the South, where they are grown and harvested. When I’m in the vicinity of Montgomery, AL, I stop by Priester’s Pecans, on I-65 South, in Fort Deposit, AL, and get myself a 5-pound bag.
The word “pecan” comes from an Algonquin word meaning “nuts that require a stone to crack.” Pecan trees are native to North America and planting began as early as the 1600s. By the 1700s, pecans played an important part in American commerce, and were exported to various parts of the world. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were known to love pecans.
Pecans are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. In terms of vitamins, they are an excellent source of vitamin E and B vitamins (such as riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and pantothenic acid), vitamin B-6, and folates. They also contain manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium.
March 25 is National Pecan Day, so in honor of this most excellent of nuts, here’s my recipe for Roasted Cauliflower with Pecan Dressing. Enjoy!
|Roasted Cauliflower with Pecan-Breadcrumb Dressing|
- 1 medium head cauliflower, cut into florets
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Salt to taste
- Black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- In a medium bowl, combine the cauliflower, 2 tablespoons of the oil,* and salt and pepper. Combine well. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast until tender and lightly browned.
- In a large skillet, heat the remaining oil; add the breadcrumbs and pecans and toast over medium-low heat, stirring often, until lightly browned. Be careful not to burn them. Add the cauliflower, mix well, and cook 1 minute longer.
- Serve hot or at room temperature.
*If you find that not all the cauliflower is coated in oil, add a bit more.
Although blond brownies, or blondies, aren’t as popular as brownies, it is believed that they may have predated brownies. Foodtimeline.org states:
According to old cookbooks, blonde brownies (also known as “Blondies”) predated chocolate brownies, though under different names. The primary ingredients of blondies (brown sugar/molasses and butter) compose butterscotch, a candy that was popular in America in the mid-19th century. Some 19th century American cookbooks contain recipes that combined traditional butterscotch ingredients with flour and a leavening agent (baking powder or soda). Presumably, these recipes would have produced something similar to the blonde brownies we enjoy today.
I’ve made some pretty good blondies, rivaling the many brownies I’ve made and tasted. I’ve
also been experimenting a lot with making gluten-free/wheat-free baked goods because I’ve been getting a lot of requests for them and I tried my hand at blondies. For people who have a wheat allergy but not Celiac Disease, I found that a 1:1 substitution of spelt flour works very well.
Also, generally speaking, blondies can be boring to look at. Unlike a brownie, with its dark, alluring, chocolaty sheen, blondies don’t exactly draw you in with their plain-jane appearance. Topping are how you will appeal where blondies are concerned. I don’t think frosting is a good idea, because they can easily be mistaken for one of those Entenmann’s-type cakes in a box (not that I have anything against Entenmann’s). Plus, frosting is boring. Toppings give the blondies some zip. You can try chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut, nuts, chocolate, dried fruit, etc.
This is my version of blondies, with spelt flour and walnut-chocolate chip topping.
|Nut-Chocolate Chip Blondies|
- ½ cup butter, room temperature
- 2 cups packed brown sugar
- 2 cups spelt flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¾ cup milk (regular, soy, almond, or coconut)
- 1 egg
- ½ cup chopped walnuts, almonds, or pecans
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.
- Using a mixer, mix the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and blend well. Add vanilla, milk, and egg and blend until smooth.
- Pour into baking pan and smooth it out. Spread the nuts and chocolate chips evenly across the top.
- Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes.
Blondies can be a blank canvas for many different flavor profiles. Try using different chips, like white chocolate, butterscotch, peanut butter, or cinnamon, or adding coconut, dried fruit, sesame seeds, or M&Ms.
The problem is that in order to get a really good black cake, you have to begin the process at least several weeks in advance, and who’s thinking about Christmas in September? (Okay, well, many of you probably start your Christmas shopping in July, but the way my life has been going the past several years, my thoughts about Christmas have had me on the brink of nervous breakdowns trying to find gifts on Christmas Eve.)
But this year, I was determined to make a black cake, so I marked my calendar for September. That’s when I was going to initiate the process. And so I did.
Black cake/Christmas cake is also sometimes called plum pudding because it is derived from the traditional British Christmas cake of the same name. Plum pudding is basically fruit cake and the addition of brandy was to keep it fresh on long voyages across the seas (plus it tastes good). (Plum pudding is traditionally lit aflame at presentation time. I suspect that this was done the first time by accident as a result of someone getting a little too close to it with a candle or something.) When the British began trading through the Caribbean, the plum pudding went with them. But rum, rather than brandy, was the liquor available on the islands, and sugar and molasses became the sweeteners. The addition of allspice and nutmeg are more Island touches on the old recipe.
It is said that the original recipe for plum pudding dates to Medieval times, when it called for 13 ingredients—1 for Jesus Christ and 12 for his apostles—and was to be made on Christmas Eve. Since then, it’s become a more elaborate affair. As other fruit cakes, a black cake contains various dried fruits that are macerated in rum and, sometimes, port wine for weeks. The ideal time to bake it is a couple of weeks before Christmas, and as the days go by, it is occasionally basted with more booze.
So, in September, I put my fruit—raisins, golden raisins, plums, figs, dates, and cranberries—in a large container with a cover and poured in a wee bit of rum and port wine and let that sit until December. About a week before Christmas (I couldn’t get around to it before then), I baked the cake, basted it a few times, and brought it for Christmas Eve dinner. It came out fabulous. It was moist and incredibly flavorful, and even though it was loaded with alcohol, the rum and wine had mellowed into a fruity liqueur-like flavor. It’s not like any fruit cake you’ve ever had, I guarantee it. Normally, black cake is served as is, but I wanted it to look a little more festive so I iced it with a basic powdered sugar icing (which eventually melted). The only thing was that my cake was not as dark as it should be (it is called black cake, after all). So, I increased the browning in the recipe. Browning is also known as burnt sugar and can be found in West Indian markets.
I share this with you now so that you can prepare ahead of time for next Christmas. Enjoy!
|Jamaican Black Cake (aka Christmas Cake)|
- 4 cups mixed dried fruit (raisins, currents, prunes, citron, cherries, dates, figs, etc.)
- 1 cup white rum
- 1 pint port wine
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 cup butter
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- 6 eggs
- 3 tablespoons browning*
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ginger
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 cup nuts
- Rinse the fruit under running water and drain well. Place in a sealable bowl and mix in the rum and port wine. Seal bowl and refrigerate and let sit for about 2 months. If the liquid gets completely soaked up, add more rum as needed.
- On the day of baking, drain the fruit over a bowl and reserve the liquid. Using a food processor or blender, grind half the fruit until it’s in small pieces (but not a paste).
- Grease a 10-inch cake pan; line it with parchment paper. (You can also use aluminum foil, but make sure to grease the foil.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and baking powder; set aside.
- Using a mixer, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until batter is smooth.
- Add half the flour and mix in; add remaining flour and mix in.
- Add the browning, vanilla, almond, molasses, lemon juice, spices, and zest. Add 1 cup of the reserved liquid and beat until well blended.
- By hand, blend in all the fruit and nuts.
- Bake for one 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Begin checking it at 1 hour.
- When done, place pan on a cooking rack and let it sit for about an hour. Invert it and remove the paper. Let cool completely. Baste every now and then with leftover liquor until ready to serve.
Makes 1 10-inch cake.
* Browning, also known as burnt sugar, is available in Jamaican/West Indian markets and sometimes in markets that have a wide variety of ethnic products. It’s used mostly for coloring. If you can’t find it, double up on the molasses.
Once again, Cinco de Mayo is upon us. Just like everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Mexican on Cinco de Mayo.
Cinco De Mayo, meaning The 5th Of May, commemorates a crucial moment the Mexican conflict against the French army at The Battle Of Puebla in 1862. A fairly small Mexican militia (estimated at about 4,500 men) stopped and defeated the French army, numbering about 6,500 soldiers. Although the victory was short-lived (Napoleon sent more troops to Mexico, eventually taking control), the battle remained an important benchmark event for Mexico because it boosted morale and created a sense of unity among its people, which gave them the impetus to depose French rule a year after the French took control. The holiday is primarily a regional one, celebrated in, of course, in the state of Puebla.
Also like St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo has become a bigger holiday in the U.S. than it is in Mexico, and the same way it brought the people of Puebla together, so it brings Mexicans in the U.S. together. For Americans, Cinco de Mayo means breaking out the tequila and eating some great Mexican food. The standard chips, salsa, and guacamole is a good start (who doesn’t like that?), but to really make it great Cinco de Mayo, try making some dishes that will wow your friends.
Here are a few of the many sites where you can get amazing Cinco de Mayo recipes:
If making a rocking margarita is your concern, here are a few sites for you:
At the Natural Gourmet Institute, we had Mexican day, which was our next-to-last class, and we cooked up some unbelievable food (see photos). Mexican cuisine, in my opinion, is one of the best in the world (although I can do without the chapulines—crickets). One of the dishes we made was mamelas, small disks made of masa harina and topped with any number of fresh ingredients. They make great tapas or appetizers. The original recipe belongs to the Natural Gourmet Institute, and I’ve added a few of my own notes, plus my own recipe for Pineapple-Mango Salsa. Below that is a recipe for Jicama with Lime, Salt, & Chile Powder, which makes a fantastic accompanying salad. It has those south-of-the-border flavors we all love with a satisfying crunch from the jicama.
Happy Cinco de Mayo and Buen Provecho!
2 cups masa harina
½ tsp sea salt
1 ¼ cups warm water or as needed
3 tb extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together masa harina, ¼ tsp sea salt and oil.
3. Pour warm water into masa harina (mixture should be soft but not too sticky).
4. Roll into walnut-size balls.
5. Flatten balls with tortilla press.* (Mamelas are not paper thin. About 2x as thick as tortillas.)
6. Place on non-greased cast iron pan** until slightly scorched on both sides.
7. Top with your favorite toppings and bake in oven an additional 5-7 minutes.
*If you don’t have a tortilla press, simply roll them out with a rolling pin as round as possible.
**If you don’t have a cast iron pan, you can broil them or use a regular pan and oil the mamelas slightly.
Top each mamela with any (or all) of your favorite toppings. Here are some favorites:
Black bean salsa
Pineapple or mango salsa
Cheese (cotija, queso fresco, cheddar, Monterey jack, pepper jack)
Copyright © Roberta Roberti
1 cup diced fresh pineapple
1 cup diced mango
2 tbsp finely chopped red onion
2 tbsp finely minced cilantro
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp guava paste or guava fruit spread
1 tsp sea salt
Combine pineapple, mango, onion, cilantro, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. If you are using guava fruit spread, add it along with the lime juice to the salsa and mix well.
If you’re using guava paste, combine it with the lime juice and mash it until the paste is soft. Stir it vigorously into the salsa.
Makes about 2 cups.
Jicama with Lime, Salt, & Chile Powder
Copyright © Natural Gourmet Institute
Yield: 6-8 servings
3-4 tb lime juice
1 medium jicama (about 2 pounds)
2 tsp sea salt
¼ tsp chile powder
1. Place lime juice in a medium bowl.
2. Peel jicama and cut into batonet or julienne slices* and place into bowl with juice.
3 . Sprinkle with sea salt.
4. Let marinate 30 minutes.
5 . Just before serving, sprinkle with chile powder.
Today is National Banana Bread Day. I love banana bread. It’s filling, satisfying, comforting, and just plain delicious. Plus, when you have those bananas that are just too ripe to eat, instead of tossing them, they can go right into a batter for bread.
We owe the existence of banana bread to the introduction of baking powder to the average household kitchen. Banana bread is in a class of baked goods called quick breads. This basically means that the dough doesn’t have to rise from yeast—it is leavened by a chemical leavener, thereby making it a “quick” bread to bake.
Baking soda is also used for quick rising, but it requires an acid to activate it, such as buttermilk, vinegar, or lemon juice. Baking powder is a chemical leavener that contains both baking soda and an acid. Variants of baking powder were being made in the early 1800s but the types we are familiar with today became more widely used in the late 1800s. By the time World War II rolled around, it was in common use. The use of bananas in bread came about for a simple reason: so money wasn’t wasted on overripe produce during the difficult war years. You can read some more interesting history on Wikipedia.
Because there are people in my life who are gluten free, I make a lot of gluten-free goodies. The banana bread recipe below is adapted from my favorite gluten-free baking book, Gluten-Free Baking by Rebecca Reilly. I added my own touches to it (including the coconut) and it makes for a delicious, not-too-sweet breakfast bread or snack. I forgot to check on mine, so it got darker than it should have, but it was tasty just the same. Enjoy!
Gluten-Free Banana Bread
Adapted from Gluten-Free Baking by Rebecca Reilly
3/4 soy flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/4 cup rice flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/3 cup coconut oil (or other oil)
2/3 cup palm sugar
1/2 cup mashed banana
1 cup desiccated coconut*
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan.
2. Mix dry ingredients (up to the eggs) in a large bowl. Make a well in the dry ingredients.
3. Mix eggs, oil, sugar, banana, and 1/2 cup coconut; pour into the well. Stir until blended.
4. Spoon batter in to loaf pan. Sprinkle the remaining coconut over the top.
5. Bake until a toothpick comes out dry but with some crumbs attached, about 40 minutes.
* Shredded, unsweetened coconut.
I enjoy meandering through the aisles of Asian markets because there is always something new that I’ve never seen before, and I will often purchase something without even knowing how it’s used, just out of curiosity.
So, I was in an Asian supermarket the other day, browsing the fare, as usual. I was in the spice section and saw a plastic package with some reddish stuff in it. I had a suspicion of what it was supposed to be, so I picked it up. Sure enough, it was labeled “saffron.” One ounce for a whopping 99 cents! I had to take a picture of it because I couldn’t believe my eyes. And the picture doesn’t do it justice. This is the skunky, dusty looking stuff that they were trying to pass off as saffron.
Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of saffron knows that there is no way you can get it—any amount—for 99 cents. Those with a little more advanced knowledge of the spice know that it simply does not look like this. I can’t even imagine what, in reality, this stuff actually was.
Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. Market prices vary but 1 gram of saffron can cost anywhere from $10 (on the cheap side) to $75 for Spanish La Mancha. Kalustyan’s in NYC sells 1-ounce jars of Persian Saffron for $200. Amazing that this store was able to magically sell 1 ounce of saffron for 99 cents. They probably took a miniscule amount of saffron dust, mixed it with other stuff, and called it saffron.
The adulteration of saffron is an age-old felony, ever since the luxury item was introduced to Europe by the Arabs in the 7th or 8th century (and probably long before that, too). The reason it’s so expensive is that harvesting it is labor-intensive. Each strand is one of only a few stigmas of a crocus flower. The stigmas are hand-picked and dried and it takes about 75,000 flowers tomake one pound of dried saffron.
In Italian, saffron is called zafferano; in French it is zafran. All three words come from the Arabic word za’faaran, meaning “yellow,” which is the color saffron imbues in food. This color is prized throughout the world—for example, in India, Buddhists wear saffron-colored robes.
Greek mythology tells us that a mortal man named Crocos fell in love with the nymph named Smilax, but she did not return his love, and for some odd reason of the Greek mythology kind, he was turned into a purple crocus flower.
Saffron has been used throughout history in numerous ways: it was used as currency; it was used to scent the baths and public halls of both Greece and Rome; Cleopatra used it in her make-up; and it’s been used for medicinal purposes. And the story of risotto alla Milanese, the classic Italian rice dish? Legend has it that that a jilted lover wanted to ruin the wedding of his ex-love and her fiancé by throwing saffron into the risotto to be served at the reception. The groom, a glass maker for Milan’s Duomo who loved to add saffron to his glass pastes for color; throwing saffron into the wedding risotto was the jilted lover’s attempt at mocking the couple. Of course, it ended up being a hit.
In the Middle Ages, saffron was more valuable that gold. One pound of it could be traded for a plow horse, and anyone passing off diluted saffron was burned at the stake. It is mentioned in the Bible, the Iliad, ancient Egyptian papyruses, and in the writings of the Greek historian Pliny. On Crete, there is a fresco that dates to 1700 B.C. on the palace at Knossos showing a worker gathering saffron. Saffron has been used for medicinal purposes and to make perfume and dye. Ancient Greeks used it to perfume the public baths. Romans drank saffron before alcoholic binges to ward off hangovers and then slept on saffron-stuffed pillows for a good night’s sleep. The Phoenicians used it to flavor love cakes, shaped like moons, and dedicated them to Astoreth, the goddess of fertility. It is said that Cleopatra used saffron as make-up. In Asia, saffron represented hospitality, while in India, people marked themselves with it to denote their wealthy status. At one time, it was thought that saffron was a remedy for, and could prevent, the plague. Called “vegetable gold” in some parts of the world, it is used in modern aromatherapy to increase energy. [This paragraph from What, No Meat? Traditional Italian Cooking the Vegetarian Way]
Rules for purchasing saffron:
- Never buy powered saffron. This is usually cut with inferior products. Only buy threads. Which leads to…
- Don’t buy packages that look as if some of the threads have been crushed to a powder.
- Threads should be a vibrant red.
- Threads should feel dry and crush easily.
- It should smell somewhat floral. Do not buy it if it smells moldy.
Here is my recipe for Risotto alla Milanese. Enjoy!
Risotto alla Milanese
Copyright © Roberta Roberti. All rights reserved.
From What, No Meat? Traditional Italian Cooking the Vegetarian Way
5 cups hot vegetable stock
1/4 teaspoon crushed saffron strands
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/3 cup grated parmigiano
Keep the stock simmering in a saucepot over very low heat. Take 2 or 3 tablespoons of the stock, place it in a small bowl, and steep the saffron in it. Melt the butter in a large pot. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the rice and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the rice is translucent around the edges, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the wine and cook for another 3 minutes.
Add ½ cup (about a large ladleful) of the stock to the rice mixture, stir it in, and let it be absorbed by the rice. Continue adding stock, ½ cup at a time and stirring it in. Allow each addition to become absorbed before adding more. Stir occasionally. After the second or third addition, add the saffron infusion, salt, and pepper.
After 4 or 5 additions, begin testing the risotto for doneness. Stop adding liquid when the rice is creamy and tender, yet firm to the bite. If there is not enough broth, add hot water to the stock pan and bring it to a boil. Add the water to the risotto, a little at a time, until the rice is cooked. Total cooking time should be 20 to 30 minutes.
When the risotto is cooked, remove it from the heat and stir in the cheese. Spoon it into individual serving bowls and serve immediately.
Leftovers can be used for rice balls or stuffing. Store tightly sealed in the refrigerator 3 to 5 days.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
On this day, November 5, 1986, the James Beard House opened in New York City. James Beard was a chef, author, cooking TV show host in the 19402) and a culinary educator, bent on introducing the world to the joys of cooking. He died in in 1985 at the age of 82. A year later, many of his friends, including Julia Child, turned his home into a public space for culinary events and the James Beard Foundation was founded. JBF gives scholarships (of which I am a recipient) and James Beard Awards, given in many categories, such as Best New Restaurant, Best Cookbook, Best Food Writing, etc. In the culinary world, receiving a JB award is like winning an Oscar.
The townhouse in the West Village is an interesting space. You go down a few steps and to the right is the reception room/shop. To the right of that is a passage that leads to the kitchen, which then leads out to an atrium-like back room, with glass ceiling and a glass outer wall that looks out into the lovely sitting garden.
That back room was obviously an extension because the inside wall looks like the outside of a house: painted brick half wall, pipes, trellis-style wood on the upper wall. In that room, there is a staircase that leads up to the dining room. There are a set of stairs that lead up when you first walk into the house, too, but I don’t know where exactly that leads, since I’ve never been up there.
Although it is now a public space and the main office of a foundation, it still looks like a home. Many of the original furnishings and touches remain and you can almost picture James Beard sitting there in front of his fireplace, or browsing his incredible library of books.
Events at JB House give talents chefs a chance to show off their skills. Sometimes the dinners are a showcase for a particular chef/restaurant; sometimes the meals are collaboration from different chefs from different restaurants. But the chefs’ dishes are built around a theme. I was there the other day for a Día de los Muertos Fiesta event, a brilliant dinner composed of numerous dishes that left me not only full and satisfied, but lifted and inspired. I’ll be telling you about that in another blog.
I’m very grateful to the James Beard Foundation for choosing me as a scholarship recipient and for being instrumental in making the culinary arts a respected and enviable profession and pastime.
For more information about James Beard, visit the James Beard Foundation site.
Pizza has an interesting history, which I talk about in my cookbook, What, No Meat? Here’s an excerpt:
Virtually every culture in the world has one form of pizza or another. In the last couple of decades it has even found its way to the most culturally isolated countries. You probably knew that pizza is an Italian creation, but did you know that it goes back to the ancient Romans? The Romans made what they called moretum, a plain baked piece of dough that they ate with onions. Near the beginning of the 2nd second century A.D., the word picea entered the language to describe a piece of round dough dressed with various toppings, perhaps influenced by the Greek word pièzo, “to flatten.” It finally became pizza soon after. (Sauce didn’t enter the picture until the 18th century.)
The pizza that we know today was created in Naples in 1535 in honor of the marriage of Bona Sforza to Sizismondo I, King of Poland. Despite its grand origin, it became a food for common folk. Pizzerias started out as little holes-in-the-wall, selling pizza to the local peasants. As pizza’s popularity grew, pizzaiuoli (pizza-makers) began adding tables and chairs to entice people to enter. Little by little, they began to decorate and beautify their establishments by putting in colorful tiles or fancy brickwork.
Gennaro Lombardi opened the first pizzeria in the U.S. in New York in 1905. Over time, it became very popular and more pizzerias opened all across the country, becoming a favorite gathering place for people of all classes. Today, pizza is just as American as it is Italian. According to one urban legend, U.S. pizza is so popular that in the 1980s, college students in England ordered pizza to be shipped overseas. Papa John’s pizzeria filled the largest pizza order in history by delivering 13,500 pizzas in June of 2006. This surpasses the Guinness World Records champion, Little Caesar’s, who delivered 13,386 pizzas on August 19, 1998 to employees of the VF Corp. of Greensboro, N.C. at 180 locations in the U.S.
(Excerpt from What, No Meat?: Copyright © Roberti Roberti
Do not reprint in ANY form or media without express written consent.)
Wednesday night was pizza night at the Natural Gourmet Institute. It was probably a little awkward for some because our bread class was cancelled due to Hurricane Irene. Irene hit us full-on on Sunday, August 28, 2011, but the city began shutting down on Saturday. Mayor Bloomberg ordered all mass transit to halt service at noon. This meant that people could get to class but they wouldn’t be able to get home. So, the school closed. That was a relief to me because to make up those classes would have been a pain in the behind for me.
Logically, bread baking should be a prerequisite to pizza making, but circumstances precluded that. But the students in my class are pretty quick learners and in the end, we made some pretty tasty pizzas and focaccia, some of them gluten free. (However, I must say that I did not agree with all the toppings that were made available to us. I just don’t think that tofu belongs on a pizza, no matter how tasty you make it.)
First, we all started by making sponges, a starter made with yeast, water, and flour and is set aside to ferment. Some bakers make a sponge and let it sit for days, even weeks. Some starters—often called “mothers”—have been around for years and years. This is achieved by making a dough with the starter, then taking a piece from that dough and setting it aside, making a dough with that starter, taking a piece, and so on. Artisinal bakers are known for doing this, as it supposedly makes a superior bread.
One of the gluten-free versions of the pizzas was slightly gummy. The bottom was crisp but the part just beneath the toppings had the appearance and texture of undercooked dough, even though it wasn’t undercooked. But the flavor was quite good—better than you’d think from a gluten-free dough. The texture of a gluten-free dough can never be that of regular dough, but you can still get a really good pizza, with a nice, fluffy texture and, with the right toppings, a complex flavor.
We were each assigned a specific recipe. Mine was pissaladiére, which is a French pizza made with caramelized onions, Niçoise olives, and anchovies. I thought it came out pretty good, although I refused to use anchovies. Sorry, all you anchovies lovers, but I just can’t stand the sight, smell, or taste of them. And that pizza was delish! I split my dough into quarters, so I wound up with 4 small pizzas. (See the picture below.)
It was a scramble to get a pizza stone. We actually had lines forming because there were only a few pizza stones and each person had multiple pizzas to throw into the oven. But, eventually, everyone got theirs in and we feasted! At the beginning of class, I was starving. By the end of class, I was stuffed.
So, here is the recipe for pissaladiére, as I made it in school. Enjoy!
¼ cup warm water
1 ½ tsp dry yeast
2 Tb unbleached white all-purpose flour
½ cup warm water
½ tsp sea salt
1 Tb olive oil
1 ½ cups unbleached white all-purpose flour
cornmeal for coating peels
1/3 cup olive oil
4 lbs. onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled, whole
2 Tb Herbs de Provence
½ tsp sea salt (or to taste)
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Niçoise olives, pitted
6 plum tomatoes, sliced (optional)
In small bowl, combine ¼ cup water, yeast, and 2 Tb flour; stir until thick like batter. Cover sponge and set aside in a warm, draft-free place for 20-30 minutes.
- Add ½ cup water, salt, olive oil and just enough of the remaining flour to create dough that pulls away from sides of bowl.
- Knead dough on table about 10 minutes or until soft dough is created.
- Place dough in medium, clean, lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Proof in a warm place for 45-60 minutes or until dough has doubled.
- While dough is proofing, place pizza stones in preheated 425 oven, and prepare toppings.
1. Heat olive oil in medium pan over low heat. Add onions, garlic, Herbs de Provence, salt, and pepper. Slowly cook about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally until onions are very soft and translucent (don’t brown). Remove garlic.
2. Gently punch down dough and cut into 2 equally sized balls. Stretch out each ball of dough into a circle about 1/4-inch thick. Place on peel.
3. Spread cooked onions on top of each dough. Add tomato slices and sprinkle olives over the top. Fold edge of dough over onion mixture to cover about 1 inch around. Let rise 15-20 minutes.
4. Slide pissaladiére onto hot pizza stones and bake 20 minutes or until golden brown.
August 6 is National Root Beer Float Day, and if you have a sweet tooth, there’s nothing easier than a root beer float. There are some fancy schmancy recipes out there that call for eggs, vanilla extract, and some other ingredients, but the original, and purest, recipe calls for only two ingredients: vanilla ice cream and root beer.
Ice cream sodas in general were invented by Robert M. Green in 1874, when he ran out of ice for his sodas and decided to use ice cream instead, hoping it would pass unnoticed. Needless to say, it went over pretty well. Credit for the root beer float is generally given to Frank Wisner of Cripple Creek, Colorado. The story goes that he was drinking a glass of root beer and the full moon illuminating the snow-capped Cow Mountain inspired him to drop some vanilla ice cream into the root beer, which is why it’s also sometimes called a ‘”brown cow.”
So here is a simple, but excellent, recipe for a classic American root beer float.
Root Beer Float
Vanilla ice cream
How much you need of each depends on how big of a float you want.
Place a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream in the bottom of a tall glass. Slowly pour root beer into the glass until the foam recedes and the root beer reaches the top of the glass.
Serve with straws and spoons.
Blueberry waffles. Belgian waffles. Buttermilk waffles. They all sound good, right? Waffles have become an American breakfast classic. And today is National Waffle Day. Happy, happy, joy, joy!
Waffles may seem like a contemporary invention, but they’ve actually been around quite a long time, some say as early as the ancient Greek period. The word waffle is derived from the word wafer. According to legend, during the Middle Ages, bakers wanted to compete with monasteries, where communion wafers were made, and came up with the waffle.
Waffles received a marketing boost when Thomas Jefferson bought a waffle iron in France and began serving waffles in the White House. Culinary history tells us that he began a waffle trend, and “waffle parties” became de rigueuracross the U.S. Belgian waffles became popular after they were introduced at the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, New York.
The waffle iron was invented by Cornelius Swarthout of Troy, New York. He patented his “device to bake waffles” on August 24, 1869.
In the interest of keeping things healthy, here is a recipe for “Healthy Waffles,” courtesy of Waffle-Recipe.com. Enjoy!
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups skim milk or water
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat a waffle iron, and coat with cooking spray if necessary.
2. Sift dry ingredients – flour, flax seed, wheat germ, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
3. Beat eggs in a separate bowl.
4. Add remaining liquid ingredients – milk, oil, applesauce, and vanilla together and whisk until well blended.
5. Add liquid ingredients to flour mixture and stir until smooth.
6. Pour batter into waffle iron and cook until crisp and golden brown.