Red Pepper Walnut Spread

OK, it’s not really red pepper/walnut spread, it’s really a Turkish dip called mahammura, and is widely known throughout the Middle East.  I love it for its “pantry” quality.  I can keep the items in my pantry and can dance the ingredients around in my food processor at the last minute, creating a fun and tasty dip or sauce or spread…you get the idea.

Try this on ciabatta bread with some green olives; stirred into vegetable soup at the last minute to heighten flavor; or simmered with a fillet of salmon or halibut.  Very quick and easy!

Mahammura

1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained, juices reserved

2 slices of toast, torn into pieces*

1/3 cup walnuts, toasted lightly

2 garlic cloves, minced and mashed to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 juice of one fresh lemon (seeds and all!)

2 teaspoons honey**

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place everything into a food processor, add the reserved red pepper liquid to get the consistency you desire.  For a sauce, use more liquid.  For a dip, use less.

* To make this gluten free, use rice crackers in the place of toast.

** Traditional mahammura calls for pomegranate molasses.  I use honey, as I prefer the taste.

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Fresh Marinara Sauce

Tomatoes!  What to do with all of those luscious red tomatoes that are in season now.  Well, you can give some to me, as I have managed to grow one meager stalk with a single tomato that refuses to ripen.  Otherwise, here is a simple marinara recipe for you to try.  It freezes well, so double the recipe and save some for winter, when only canned tomatoes are available.

Fresh Marinara

This is a simple marinara sauce and is good with fresh tomatoes or canned, when fresh tomatoes aren’t in season.  This recipe may be used for pasta, pizza or as foundation for puttenesca (add anchovies, olives, capers).  I also simmer halibut or other firm white fish in the sauce and serve over polenta.

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, chopped

1-tablespoon honey or sugar

6 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

2 teaspoons salt (skip this if using canned tomatoes)

½ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed

3-4 cups fresh tomatoes, diced (or 2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes)

¼ cup fresh basil, oregano and/or thyme (dried is ok, use 1 teaspoon each)

Heat olive oil in a heavy Dutch oven or large saucepan.  Add onion, cook 4-6 minutes.  Add honey, garlic, salt (if using) and fennel seeds.  Cook about 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes; simmer over low heat for about 15-20 minutes.  Add the fresh herbs.  Serve.

Quinoa Con Queso

Quinoa is an ancient grain, grown in Peru, that has found its way into American and European diets.  Naturally low in fat, fast cooking and  loaded with protein, it’s a great addition to soups and salads.  When cooked, quinoa has a delicate, lacy appearance  that is just beautiful.  I recently stumbled onto a variety of  red quinoa.  Equally as tasty as the common variety, but a striking auburn color when cooked.   Remember to always rinse quinoa.  I’m the shortcut queen and I skipped this step once, I will never skip it again.  Quinoa has a bitter taste that is easily eliminated by a quick rinsing.

My sister gave me this recipe many years ago.  It’s become a staple in our house.

Quinoa Con Queso

1 cup rinsed quinoa (I use a small, hand-held sieve for this task)

1 cup light cream or half and half (low-fat, ok)

3 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped

2 tbsp butter or olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped

1 8 oz can tomato sauce

12 oz monterey jack or mild cheddar cheese, or combination, shredded

Bring 2 cups water to a boil.  Add quinoa and cook covered on low heat for about 10 minutes or until water is absorbed.

Remove quinoa from heat, add cream or half and half.

Meanwhile, cook potatoes in boiling water for about 10 minutes, or until fork-tender.  Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, over medium heat, add oil/butter, onion and garlic.  Saute 5 minutes.  Stir in tomato sauce, quinoa mixture and cooked potatoes.  Fold in the cheese.

At this point, the dish is ready.  However, I place the mixture into a baking dish and bake uncovered  for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  This allows the cheese to bubble up and I can serve it warm from the casserole dish at the table.

Quinoa Con Queso is equally good cold, as a side dish or for a picnic.  It keeps well in the fridge, and you can add your favorite vegetable or even ground beef, chicken, or shrimp.

Pie Crust

Who makes their own pie crust?  Who makes the trip to Costco to buy pie crust?

I love to bake, however, I have never had success with pie crust.  It seems so complex and precise.  I have recently stumbled onto a recipe from my favorite author, Mark Bittman  http://www.amazon.com/Mark-Bittman/e/B000APUJB0/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1275834528&sr=1-2-ent.  I’ve re-worked his recipe several times and made a few changes.  This version can be made quickly and with a few minutes in the freezer before rolling out, can be worked into a crust with ease.

Now, some purists believe that pie crust should consist of only a certain few ingredients.  I’ve never been accused of being a purist, so here is my version.  It includes sugar and egg yolks, which makes this crust easier to handle and it tastes like a giant cookie.

Simple Pie Crust

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) cold butter, cut into 10 pieces

2 egg yolks

3 – 4 tablespoons ice water

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor, pulse twice to combine.  Add the butter (all 10 pieces) and process until combined and the mixture looks like cornmeal (about 15 seconds). Add the egg yolks and water through the feed tube, one at a time.  Process for another 10 seconds.

Turn the mixture out onto a silicon mat (silpat), if you have one, or a floured work surface.  Shape into a disc, wrap with plastic wrap and freeze for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, remove from the freezer, keeping the plastic wrap on top of the dough, roll out the dough with a rolling pin and place into a 10-inch pie plate.  Cut the edges that hang over the pie pan (Save the scraps and bake them like a cookie, the cook’s treat for a job well done!) and use with your favorite pie recipe.  This pie crust can be frozen in a pie dish, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for several months.  Just pull out of the freezer, thaw for 20 minutes and fill…dessert!

Popsicles!

What was your favorite popsicle when you were a kid?  Did you like the two-stick or single-stick variety?  My favorite was lime, on a single-stick.  It was both tart and sweet at the same time.  I loved the happy neon-green color…and no popsicle experience was complete unless it turned your tongue a vibrant shade!

Most popsicles are a simple combination of fruit and some type of sweetener.  You can add milk, yogurt, sour cream or buttermilk for variety.   Add heavy cream, you have a creamsicle….add chocolate you have a fudgesicle.

These recipes may be made in a food processor, blender or hand emulsifier.  (I used a food processor.)  Feel free to experiment and let me know if you come up something fun.   Here are a couple of recipes to get you started.

Favorite Fruit Popsicles

1 1/2 cups of your favorite ripe fruit, i.e. strawberries, raspberries or cherries

1/2 cup half and half

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice

Process in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Spoon into a popsicle mold and freeze for 3 hours.  Don’t have molds?  Use small bowls, paper cups, muffin tins, ice cube trays…you get the idea!

Mango Banana Popsicles

2 mangos peeled and chopped

1/2 banana (eat the other half while you mix the ingredients)

1/4 cup plain yogurt

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup sugar (or less)

Combine all but the coconut in a food processor.  Blend until smooth.  Mix in the coconut, spoon into molds and freeze for 3 hours.

Variations:

Add a banana to any fruit combination

Pure vanilla extract (about 1/2 teaspoon) can reduce the amount of sugar you need

Use honey instead of sugar

I’ve heard of margarita popsicles, I’ll save that one for another blog!

Homemade Biscuit Mix

Homemade Pre-Made Biscuit Mix

My mom used to make biscuits using a boxed mix.  Your mom probably did, too.  You know, that familiar yellow box?  I have fond memories of chicken pot pie with biscuit topping, apple pandowdy, and biscuits with jam, all from a boxed mix.

Recently, I picked up a box of pre-made biscuit mix, it was loaded with (insert scary monster music) the dreaded chemicals, additives and preservatives!  AND, it was expensive.

I think it’s great to strive for homemade, whole ingredient food, but who has time to make biscuits from scratch?  Well, now you do!  I have found a wonderful recipe for pre-made biscuit mix that can be made in large batches, stored in the freezer and pulled out as needed for homemade biscuits in minutes.  Who could ask for more?

The following is the basic recipe and instructions for its use.

Basic Pre-made Biscuit Mix

2 1/2 cups white all-purpose flour

1/2  cup whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon sugar or brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a food processor, mix together the dry ingredients.  Mix in the butter (if using the food processor, pulse several times) until the dough looks crumbly, like oatmeal.  That’s it, you’re done.  Store this in a ziplock bag and freeze (or refrigerate) for future use.  This makes 1 batch of 12 biscuits, or enough to make a cobbler topping or a batch of pretty respectable tasting scones.

To make ahead and freeze for future use:

Triple the recipe and divide equally into 3 ziplock bags.  This should measure about  3 ½ cups of final mixture. Label your ziplock bag and freeze.   Pull out a bag when you need a batch of biscuits, a fruit cobbler topping, strawberry shortcakes, chicken pot pie topping or blueberry scones!

Basic Biscuits from Homemade Pre-made Biscuit Mix

1 batch of Homemade Pre-Made Biscuit Mix

1 large egg

1 ¼ cups lowfat milk

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a large bowl, mix together pre-made mix, egg and milk. Drop by the teaspoon onto a cookie sheet.  Bake for about 15 minutes.  The biscuits will be golden brown on top.  Let cool on a wire rack, if you can convince the people who hang out in your kitchen to wait that long!

Here are some variations:

Savory cheese biscuit:  Follow the above recipe and add 2 teaspoons of your favorite dried herb – thyme, oregano, rosemary, or a combination and ¾ cup grated cheddar cheese.  This will make a savory biscuit to serve with a stew.

Strawberry shortcake biscuit:  Follow the above recipe and use heavy cream instead of milk, or buttermilk (nonfat, ok).  Add an additional tablespoon of sugar, or honey.  This makes a tasty strawberry shortcake biscuit.

Scones:  You can use this dough to make cream scones.  Substitute the milk for heavy cream, add an additional 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 cup of your favorite berries (fresh blueberries are wonderful) or mini chocolate chips.  You’ll need to roll the dough out onto a counter, pat it into a rectangle and slice into triangles.  Bake as directed.

Pizza Crust

Ingredients

1 ½ cups warm water

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 cup white flour (all purpose or bread)

2 ½ cups whole wheat flour

Pour ½ cup warm water into mixing bowl, stir in the yeast, let stand 10 minutes or so while you assemble the rest of the ingredients.  Using the wire whisk attachment on a stand mixer,  add the remaining water, olive oil and salt then beat in the whole wheat flour, followed by the white flour until ingredients are mixed and form a shaggy dough.

Switch from the wire whisk mixing tool to the dough hook of the stand mixer (or use your hands!).  Mix on low speed about 4 minutes, dough should form a ball.  Take the dough out of the mixing bowl, put into a bowl that has been sprayed with oil.  Turn it over once to coat with oil, cover bowl with plastic wrap.  Let rise at room temperature for about an hour.  Dough will double in bulk.  You may also place the dough in the refrigerator at this point and let it rise over night or during the day.  The dough will last 3 days in the refrigerator or may be frozen for three months.  (see freezing instructions below).

Preheat your oven to 450.  Remove the plastic wrap from the bowl, place dough on silicon mat, cut into 3 equal pieces (or 2 pieces for very large pizzas).  Roll out each piece onto it’s own silicon mat or use one piece and freeze the other dough for later use. Cover with a clean dish cloth and let the dough rest while you assemble toppings.  Use any toppings for this crust, sautéed vegetables, left over chicken or salmon, classic marinara sauce, whatever is handy.  Place toppings on the pizza, cook in the preheated oven for 9 minutes, check for crisp, browned crust and bubbly toppings.  Rotate the pan and cook another 2 minutes, if needed.

Freezing Instructions:  If freezing the dough, shape into a ball, flatten into a disc and wrap individually with plastic wrap.  Place wrapped discs into a freezer bag, to prevent freezer burn if the plastic wrap bursts.

This dough can also be used to make bread sticks and foccacia.