Saturday, July 30, 2011

Lemon-Kissed Waffles

At first I wasn’t sure about posting a waffle recipe. After all, to make waffles you need a waffle maker, and if you have a waffle maker you probably already have a recipe for waffle batter that you’re at least reasonably happy with. Eventually I decided to post Lemon-Kissed Waffles this week because I think the recipe offers a couple of things most others I’ve seen don’t.

First, there’s a hit of lemon zest that gives the finished waffles just the right touch of tartness to complement the sweetness of the syrup, fruit, etc., that normally are put on top. Second, there’s just a little bit of corn meal that adds a nice bit of texture without being overwhelming. A waffle shouldn’t be just a neutral flavored holder for toppings.

The picture at the top of this article shows what looks like a Belgian waffle, with its large size and deep openings to hold the toppings. A true Belgian waffle (meaning the kind they make in Belgium, not the kind you get at carnivals) is made from a yeast batter, which gives the waffle a very light texture. Although I used a Belgian waffle maker, the waffles I cooked were made from an American style batter, which uses baking powder for leavening instead of the yeast. Not to worry, however; as you’ll see, the recipe also includes beaten egg whites for a bit of added lightness. This is especially helpful if, like me, you reduce the fat content by using egg substitute which, as I’ve mentioned here before, tend not to fluff when cooked quite the way that fresh whole eggs do.

This recipe makes six to eight 8” waffles; they’re best eaten right after being made.

Begin preheating your waffle maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

To make the batter, first combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl: 1 cup all-purpose flour; 1 cup whole wheat flour; 2 tablespoons of corn meal; 1 tablespoon baking powder; 1 teaspoon kosher salt; 3 tablespoons sugar; ¼ teaspoon cinnamon; ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, and the zest of 1 lemon. (Note: if you prefer to use 2 cups of all-purpose flour and no whole wheat flour, that works too; the taste of the cooked waffle just won’t be quite as deep.)

Form a large well in the mixed dry ingredients. Place the wet ingredients - 2 egg-substitute eggs, beaten; 1-1/2 cups skim milk; 1 teaspoon vanilla; and 3 tablespoons of butter substitute, melted - in the well and mix until the wet ingredients are completely combined. After the wet ingredients are combined, mix them into the dry ingredients until a batter forms. (Note: Most recipes call for you to combine the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and then mix them into the dry ingredients. You could do that here too, but why make more dishes to wash later?)
Put two fresh egg whites and a pinch of salt into a bowl, and beat until stiff peaks form.
Carefully fold half of the beaten egg whites into the batter. Repeat with the second half of the beaten egg whites. If necessary, add additional all-purpose flour, a tablespoon at a time, until the desired thickness is achieved. The batter should be on the thick side as shown in the video. (Don’t bother getting popcorn and settling back; the video is only about seven seconds.)
Allow the batter to rest for five minutes.

Make the waffles according to the waffle maker manufacturer’s directions. Serve immediately, topped with butter substitute, syrup, fresh fruit, and whatever else suits your fancy! (I also served mine with turkey bacon slices. They’re not shown in the photo, but you already know what they look like.) Or keep them warm in a 200 degree F oven until you’re ready to serve.

And there you have it: Lemon-Kissed Waffles!

I hope you enjoy these waffles as much as I enjoyed sharing them with you. If you’d like a cookbook-style, notebook-ready copy of the recipe, just mention it in a comment or e-mail and you’ll have it post haste!

Stop back next week for another easy, fun, reduced-fat recipe. Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hakuna Frittata

If you’re in the mood for a great-tasting, light meal in the steak-and-eggs spirit, the Hakuna Frittata – an asparagus and roasted red pepper frittata with just the right touch of bacon, and a ground lamb (no lion or, worse, meerkat) and tomato topping - may be just what you’re looking for. Plus the name is really cool to say. (If the name, or the reference to lions and meerkats, has you mystified, people who had small children in the mid-90’s and can explain it are easy to find; it’s a small world after all.)

The real, and decidedly unglamorous, origins of the Hakuna Frittata arise from the fact that I like eggs, wanted to do something different with a frittata, and had a package of ground lamb in the freezer that I’d gotten with no particular recipe in mind but that I thought would make a nice ingredient in, well, something.

The frittata, of course, is Italy’s version of an omelet, with the vegetables incorporated into the eggs rather than being placed on them. It’s usually cooked in a pan and is more-or-less pie-shaped. In this recipe, I’ve taken a different approach and baked the frittata in a loaf pan in a larger pan of water for more even cooking (a kind of improvised bain-marie), a method presented in Michel Richard’s “Cooking with a French Accent” that I had the opportunity to learn in a class with Chef Renee at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education. (It’s a fantastic place for both full time and recreational classes if you’re in the New York area.)

A special note for new cooks: this recipe also uses a number of techniques – whipping and folding egg whites, blanch and shock, preparing roasted red peppers, the aforementioned bain-marie - that will be familiar to people who’ve cooked before, and that will be great additions to the skill set of anyone new to cooking. (Where appropriate, I’ve added some Cook’s Notes in the recipe to clarify certain points for anyone new to this.) Note that whipping the egg whites is not normally done when making frittatas and, in fact, isn’t even necessary if you’re using fresh eggs. As readers know by now, I look to reduce fat in recipes where I can, and use egg substitute a lot. It’s good for most things, but doesn’t fluff when cooking quite the way fresh eggs do. For recipes where that's an issue, I’ve found adding beaten egg whites to be the solution. It’s an example of how reduced fat cooking and baking typically require more than just substituting reduced fat ingredients, which can have a negative impact on texture. You need the proper items and techniques in your low-fat tool-box. More on that another day.

Ok, let’s cook! This recipe makes about 4 servings.

Place a large baking dish half-filled with water into the oven, and preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

To prepare the asparagus:
  • Bring a pot of salted water large enough for the asparagus to a boil. 
  • Make a salted ice bath in preparation for cooking the asparagus. 
  • Cut the stems off of ¾ pound of medium-to-thick asparagus. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the tough outer skin from the back end and make the shafts a uniform thickness to cook evenly. Boil until tender but still crisp, about 3 – 4 minutes, then immediately place the asparagus in the ice bath. [Cook’s note: This method of stopping the cooking and preserving the nice green color is called, “blanch and shock.”] When they’ve cooled, remove the asparagus from the ice bath, and place them on a towel to dry.

Roast two red peppers in a skillet, dice, and place in a skillet with about a tablespoon of olive oil. [Cook’s Note: For tips on roasting the red peppers, see last week's recipe for Chicken Pasta Primavera.] Add ½ teaspoon of sugar, 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar, and 2 minced cloves of garlic, and cook over medium heat until the vinegar has evaporated. Add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.

Cook and finely dice one or two slices of turkey bacon, and set aside.

Coat the sides of a 2 pound loaf pan with butter substitute. Line the bottom of the loaf pan with parchment.

In a bowl, beat five egg substitute eggs together with one tablespoon of minced, fresh basil.

In a second bowl, add a pinch of salt to two fresh (not packaged) egg whites and beat until firm peaks form. [Cook’s note: Using fresh egg whites here, and not the packaged egg whites, is very important. I’ve found that packaged egg whites don’t form peaks the way fresh egg whites do.] Fold the beaten eggs into the egg substitute mixture. [Cook’s Note: When folding beaten egg whites into another mixture, there’s no need to make sure they combine completely. Some white streaks or bumps from the beaten egg whites are ok. Attempting to combine everything completely can result in the beaten egg whites losing their fluffiness.]

Place about 1/3 of the asparagus on the bottom of the loaf pan, alternating tips and bottoms, being sure to leave space in between each stalk. Place 1/3 of the cooked peppers on top of the asparagus, then sprinkle with 1/3 of the diced bacon. Repeat with another 1/3 of the asparagus, peppers, and bacon, and then with the remaining asparagus, peppers and bacon. (Leaving space between the asparagus stalks is critical; if there is not enough space between them, the egg mixture will not get in between the asparagus and the finished frittata will fall apart when cut.)

Gently pour the egg mixture over the asparagus and peppers, making sure all of the asparagus are covered. After the loaf pan has been filled, tap it gently to distribute the liquid evenly.

Cover the loaf pan with foil, and place it in the oven in the pan of water to form a bain-marie. Bake until the eggs are firm and a knife or skewer inserted comes out clean (45 – 60 minutes).

While the frittata is baking, make the topping as described below.

In a bowl, combine the one pound of ground lamb, 3 chopped sprigs of fresh oregano, 3 chopped sprigs of fresh rosemary, and 1/3 cup flat Italian parsley.

In a large pan over moderately high heat, and add the lamb mixture, 1 diced medium onion and 2 minced cloves of garlic. Cook until the onions are soft and the lamb is well browned. (If possible, drain some excess fat as you go.) Add a pinch of red pepper flakes and cook for another minute.

Add a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes with juice to the lamb mixture. Simmer, partially covered and stirring occasionally, for 15- 20 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

When the frittata has finished baking, remove the foil and let it rest for about 15 minutes. (If any water has formed on top of the frittata, dab it up with a paper towel.)

Run a knife around the edge of the loaf pan, and turn the frittata out onto a platter, dabbing of any excess liquid. Slice the frittata into portions; after plating, top each portion with the lamb topping, garnish with parsley, and serve immediately.

And with that, the recipe’s circle of life is completed, and you’re ready to feel the love of a good meal tonight! If you'd like a cookbook-style, notebook-ready copy of this recipe, drop me a line or a comment and it shall be yours!

That's it for now. There'll be a new recipe posted here next Saturday, so please come by! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Chicken Pasta Primavera

Needless to say, I have great respect for the high level techniques of master chefs. Nevertheless, the difference between an “ok” dish and a really good one is often a matter of one or two simple changes all of us can do, and I believe one of the most fertile and fascinating areas of cooking is the study of simple tweeks and methods that can make the difference. It is this idea that formed the foundation of this week’s recipe, Chicken Pasta Primavera.

The concept is simple enough: pasta and vegetables topped with cooked chicken. In this version, the pasta is cooked the usual way, but in chicken broth rather than water, adding extra depth of flavor. I also decided to avoid the easy choice of boneless breast for the chicken, and noodles or a long pasta. I opted instead for drumsticks and shell pasta. There’s nothing wrong with boneless breast, noodles, or long pasta, of course, but something about putting together another chicken-breast-on-noodles dish seemed visually boring to me. My thinking was that you judge how any dish looks before you ever get to judge how it smells or tastes. Needless to say, feel free to use whatever chicken parts and pasta you like.

Plus, this recipe also has you doing that really cool thing where you roast a red pepper directly on the stove burner. (If you’ve never done it, fear not: I took pictures.)

This recipe makes four servings. We’ll start by making the herb mix for the marinade and pasta.

To made the herb mixture, combine and finely chop 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano, ½ tablespoon of fresh rosemary, ½ tablespoon of fresh thyme, ½ tablespoon of fresh sage, and ½ tablespoon of fresh mint leaves. (If you make extra, it tastes great in scrambled eggs too.)

Next, we’ll make the marinade and marinate the chicken.

In a large sealable plastic bag, combine 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the herb mix to form a marinade. Add the 8 chicken drumsticks and set in the refrigerator for 3 hours, turning occasionally.

After the chicken has finished marinating, we’ll continue with the remaining steps.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook 1 pound of pasta as per the instructions on the box, but using the 2 – 3 quarts of fat-free chicken broth instead of water. Continue with the rest of the recipe while the pasta is cooking.
Roast a red pepper on the stove burner. To do this, you literally place the pepper directly on the burner. Give it as much flame as you can without having the flame touch the pepper. As each side blackens, use tongs to turn the pepper till all sides are blackened. Set the pepper aside until it is cool enough to handle, then use your fingers to remove the blackened outside skin. What’s left will be a delicious roasted pepper than can be diced for addition to the finished pasta.

Place pepper directly on burner.
Turn so all sides blacken.
Once blackened, set aside to cool.
Dice for use in pasta.

Add a little olive oil to a large heated skillet, and brown the drumsticks. (Just brown them, don’t cook them to completion.) After the drumsticks have browned, place them on a baking sheet and bake till done, about 45 minutes.

Dice one medium onion and put it in the skillet you used to brown the chicken, adding a little olive oil if necessary, and cook until caramelized. Add 4 chopped garlic cloves, and  a pinch of red pepper flakes and cook for about a minute more. Add the roasted pepper, 4 cups of chopped fresh spinach, and the remaining poultry seasoning herbs. Season with salt. When the spinach has wilted down, add about 1/3 cup of the starchy pasta cooking liquid to the pan and cook for a minute to reduce it.

Drain the pasta well and add it to the skillet. Toss the mixture to allow it to absorb the remaining liquid. Add salt and pepper to taste.

After plating the pasta into four servings, top each plate with two of the drumsticks and drizzle with a little olive oil before serving.

And there it is: Chicken Pasta Primavera!

If you’d like a cookbook-style, notebook-ready copy of this recipe, let me know and you’ll have it in short order!

See you next week with another recipe. Till then stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Pomegranate Chiffon 123 Dessert

I have to confess to being very excited about this week’s recipe, Pomegranate Chiffon 123 Dessert. Forget the fancy-sounding name; this is a delicious - and very retro - tribute to a much-beloved mainstream classic.

Anyone old enough to have been aware of his surroundings in the late 60’s and early 70’s will no doubt remember a dessert-fad called Jello 1-2-3. The folks at Kraft found a way to apply colloidal solution technology (whatever that is) to their venerable staple, Jello, and create a special formula that, properly prepared, would separate into three uniquely textured layers while cooling.  It enjoyed a good popularity for a time, and gradually faded out until being discontinued in 1996. Although this specially formulated Jello is no longer available, the concept – and the memory - still enjoy a very devoted following.

Recognizing this, Kraft includes on their web site a recipe for using their regular Jello formula to make a layered dessert in the spirit of Jello 1-2-3. It's a good recipe (although it separates into two layers, not three), but there's one problem: it uses their regular Jello product.

Let me be clear: I like Jello. It’s just that the flavor is never quite what it’s supposed to be. (Ask someone what their favorite Jello flavor is, and they’ll probably say something like, “red.” Yes, it’s supposed to be strawberry, but let’s be honest: have you ever taken a bite of red Jello and said, “Mmmm…sure tastes like strawberry!” My guess is that you haven’t.)  Red is supposed to be a color, not a flavor.

To remedy this, we know it’s possible to put fruit juice into unflavored gelatin and create a dessert that really is the flavor it claims to be.  So why not bring those two concepts together, create a layered chiffon gelatin that really tastes like something, say pomegranate, and sandwich the pomegranate’s tartness between the sweetness of a graham cracker base at the bottom and a fresh strawberry syrup garnish on top?

I believe you will like the result. A lot.

You’ll note the recipe uses Cool Whip which, by astonishing coincidence, is also made by Kraft. Regular readers know I normally prefer fresh whipped cream to packaged whipped toppings, but whipped topping has one (and only one) advantage over fresh whipped cream that is important to the chemistry of this particular recipe: it doesn’t break down quickly the way fresh whipped cream does.

This recipe makes an 8” x 8” baking dish size dessert that divides nicely into 9 servings. The only special considerations are the need for a blender, and freezing about 1-1/2 cups of your juice into ice cubes before starting.
Begin by preparing a graham cracker crust in an 8” x 8” baking dish. (Click here for a link to my recipe for pineapple pudding pie that includes a graham cracker crust made with reduced-fat ingredients.) Once the crust is made, it must cool completely before you prepare the gelatin-chiffon mixture.

Only after the graham cracker crust has cooled, put 1-1/2 cups of pomegranate juice (or pomegranate juice mixture) in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Sprinkle in two 0.3 ounce packets of unflavored gelatin and stir about two minutes till the gelatin powder is completely dissolved.

Pour the hot juice into the blender. Add the 1 cup of cold juice and 1-1/2 cups of frozen juice (ice trays work best), and blend until smooth (about 30 seconds).

Add 1 cup of Cool Whip and blend until completely incorporated into the juice mixture.

Pour the blended liquid into the baking dish on top of the crust. Almost immediately, the liquid will begin to separate into a darker gelatin layer on the bottom, and a lighter chiffon layer on top. Refrigerate for at least three hours till the gelatin and chiffon set.

After the dessert has set, garnish the top with strawberry syrup and cut into 9 equal squares to serve. (Click here for a link to my recipe for fluffy reduced-fat blueberry pancakes that includes a fresh-made strawberry syrup that has chunks of strawberry. To make a smooth syrup instead of a chunky one, use the same recipe except puree, rather than chop, the strawberries.)
And there it is: a dessert your family and guests will enjoy even if they’re not old enough to remember the classic that inspired it.

If you'd like a cookbook-style, notebook-ready copy of this recipe, drop me a line (including your e-mail address) and it will be sent. 

See you next week with more food that's as much fun to make as it is to eat. Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Savory Crust Pizza

Forgiveness asked, please, for being a half a day late with this post. (I normally look to have new posts up every Saturday morning, and occasionally even Friday evening.) Hopefully you will consider it worth the wait.

A sharp-eyed reader recently noted that, in my profile picture, I’m putting a pizza into the oven, and asked that sometime soon I post the recipe. I thought it was a great idea. And so, by special request and with great pleasure, I give you this week the gift of Savory Crust Pizza. And a great gift you will find it to be.

While just about everyone loves eating some form of pizza, the choices and combinations of topping can vary widely. And so, rather than being about one particular type of pizza, in order to be useful to a wide range of readers this recipe is really about two things:
  • A delicious, savory crust that goes beyond being simply a holder for the toppings and brings a flavor of its own.
  • General guidelines that will be helpful when applying toppings.

And therein is one of the great strengths of homemade pizza: the toppings can be custom- selected in combinations that go beyond those offered by a typical pizza parlor. (As a side note, since pizza bakes for a short time at a high temperature, it would also be easy to let children select and apply their own toppings to have as dinner only a short time later!)

This recipe uses bread flour. For any readers new to making pizza or working with dough in general, a brief flour primer may be helpful. Otherwise, feel free to skip to the next paragraph. Specialty flours aside, you’ll generally find three kinds of wheat flour in the supermarket: all-purpose flour, pastry flour (or cake flour), and bread flour. The difference is in their gluten content. Gluten is a complex string of proteins that, when developed by kneading, adds chewiness to the dough. When the dough is overworked, such as by being kneaded for too long, the chewiness becomes extreme and the dough becomes overly tough. For this reason, cakes and pastries, which need as little chewiness as possible, are made with pastry or cake flour, which has the lowest gluten content. Chewier items, such as breads, are made with bread flour, which has a high gluten content. (There’s also “high gluten” flour which has even more gluten than bread flour and that is often used for chewy breads like focaccia, but this is typically a restaurant supply house item you won’t find at your local supermarket.) And, as the name implies, the gluten content of all-purpose flour is somewhere in the middle.

When it’s time to let the dough rest and ferment, a room-temperature kitchen should be adequate. However, if you’re concerned your kitchen may be too cool for the doughs to ferment properly, here’s a useful baker’s trick: heat your oven to 200 degrees, turn off the heat, put the foil-covered bowls with the dough into the oven, close the door, and let the oven return to room temperature while the doughs ferment.

Finally, a note about saucing the pizza. The recipe below calls for each pizza to get 3 ounces of sauce. If you’ve never made pizza before, you might spread the sauce and, after looking at it, think that amount can’t possibly be enough, and add more. Please resist any temptation to do that. Once the pizza is baking with all the other toppings, you’ll find 3 ounces of sauce was just enough.

This recipe makes dough for three 16” diameter (or 11” x 17” rectangular) pizzas.

First, let’s make our savory dough:
In a bowl, whisk 2 packages (1/2 oz.) of dry yeast in 1 quart of 110 degree water. When the yeast has dissolved, add 1 teaspoon of sugar, then whisk in 1/2 cup olive oil.

In a large bowl, combine dry dough ingredients -  3 pounds of bread flour, 2 tablespoons of  salt, 1-1/2 tablespoon of garlic powder, ¼ cup dried oregano, and ¼ cup dried basil - in a large bowl and mix well. Gradually add the yeast mixture and mix just until the dry ingredients are incorporated, forming a sticky dough. Be careful not to overwork the dough.

In a stand mixer (using the dough hook) or by hand on a floured surface, knead the dough for about 5 minutes. If necessary, add a little more flour to make dough smooth and elastic.

Divide the dough into three pieces and round off. Place each in a separate oiled bowl, and cover the bowl with foil or plastic. Allow the doughs to ferment on the kitchen counter until at least doubled (about an hour). When doubled, the dough should hold the indentation when poked with a finger.

Now let’s make our pizza! (If you’re not using all three doughs right away, any you’re not using can be frozen for later use.)
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Apply a very light coating of olive oil to a 16” round or 11” x 17” pan. Dust the  pan with corn meal. Place a dough on the pan and press it over the surface of the pan, working toward the edges. Flatten all but a 1” border around the circumference.

Apply a very thin coat of olive oil to the surface of the dough, spread the sauce, and add the selected toppings. A few suggestions for your consideration:
  • 1 large green pepper slice
  • Cheese: Shred and combine 1-1/4 cups mozzarella, ¼ cup parmesan, ½ cup provolone
  • 8 ounces mushrooms
  • 6 ounces sliced sausage
  • Anything else that seems interesting (Note: If topping with ziti, cook ziti half-way, and coat with sauce before baking.)

Bake the pizza for 11 minutes, turning the pan around in the oven half-way. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, and you’re ready to serve. Bellisimo!

If you’d like a cookbook-style, notebook-ready copy of this recipe, just send a request along with your e-mail address and you’ll have it before you can say, “Send me a cookbook-style, notebook-ready copy of this recipe.”

See you next week with an exciting (to me, anyway) dessert recipe! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)