Thursday, January 28, 2010

Eating legumes

Legumes are a cool family of plants, notable for their ability to fix nitrogen directly from the air. And we like to eat them. Most of the air around us is composed of a fairly inert gas: nitrogen. Nitrogen is also one of the four most abundant elements in living matter, along with carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. Amino acids and nucleotides, and thus protein and nucleic acids contain most of this nitrogen in us.

And how do we humans get this inert gas to make our DNA? Well, we don't. Mostly we consume previously living things that already gathered it and incorporated it into organic compounds for us. But someone at some point needs to do the hard work of getting this inert gas to react and form compounds.

Plants belonging to the Fabaceae family (legumes) can accomplish this by taking nitrogen gas directly from the air. Truth be told, they collaborate with some bacteria in the process. The bacteria fix the nitrogen, and the plants provide them with housing in exchange. In conclusion: these guys are working together to accomplish a tough job. All I can say is: respect.
And now...we are going to eat them!

First some split yellow peas:
1 cup of split yellow peas
2 cups water
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp paprika
salt to taste

Wash the peas twice in water. Drain and add to a pot. Add the two cups of water, the garlic clove and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 hr (until the peas stop being crunchy).

To a frying pan add the oil and flour, heat until light brown. Add the paprika, stir and heat for 20-30 more seconds. As always: take care not to burn the paprika!

Add a scoopful of the cooked yellow peas to the roux (the cooked flour and oil mixture) and stir until smooth. Pour it into the pot with the remaining peas, stir and bring to a boil again. To reach the desired thickness, add more water as necessary.

On the picture below it's served relatively thick, in lieu of mashed potatoes, with Hungarian fried meatballs.

And then some lentils:
1 cup lentils
2 cups water
1 small onion
half of a smaller bell pepper
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp paprika
salt to taste

Wash the lentils, then add to a pot. Add the water, the onion cleaned and halved, the diced bell pepper. Bring to a boil and cook just until the lentils are not hard anymore.

Thicken with the roux as described above, using the flour, oil and paprika. Finally salt to taste. You can also remove the onion at this point. But personally I like the flavor.

The lentil stew is served with some pepperoni bits which were cooked to release the grease and drained on a paper towel. The stew is delicious without them as well, simply serve with a warm piece of bread.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cinnamon monkey bread

If you've never heard about monkey bread before, it's essentially balls of sweet yeast dough assembled into a bread with some coating in between. The Hungarian standard, which I will make later, uses ground walnuts and sugar between the balls. The warm bread is then pulled into pieces and served with a vanilla sauce. There is also a lemon cream cheese version I learned about from cookingbread.

1/3 cup water
1/3 cup milk
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1.25 tsp dry yeast
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup yellow raisins

Heat the water, milk and butter till the butter is melted and the mixture is lukewarm. Mix the sugar, salt and yeast in a separate bowl. Add the milk mixture and the beaten egg to it.

Mix and then knead for 5 minutes adding more flour as necessary. The dough should be smooth, elastic and slightly sticky in the end.

Add a little bit of oil to a bowl and turn the dough in it a few times to coat lightly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and all allow to rest till it doubles in size.

Meanwhile mix the ingredients for the sauce: soften the butter, add the sugar, honey and spices. Mix thoroughly and fold in the raisins in the end.

Pour the dough onto a lightly floured surface. With your hands roll it out into a cylinder shape and cut into 18-20 pieces. Coat each piece with the sauce, without squishing it too much.

Layer them into a loaf pan, distributing the pieces evenly. Scrape the remaining sauce on top. Allow to rise for another hour.

When the dough is almost ready, preheat the oven to 350F. You may want to place a piece of aluminum foil on the bottom shelf, as the sauce will likely overflow a bit.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, till cooked. You will need to optimize this with your oven.

Cool on a cookie rack for a bit, then flip onto a serving plate. Serve warm!
And don't forget to remove the aluminum foil from the oven as well. I did, and the resulting smoke set off my fire alarm.
This is a little on the sweet side for my taste, but serving it with whipped cream makes it lighter!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Focaccia bread

This is hands down the best focaccia I've ever eaten. No more introduction needed. The above picture shows the bread I got when following the original directions on cookingbread. With the modified recipe listed below the crumb structure was much improved and the bread was thinner (1-1.5 inches).

1.25 cups of flour
0.75 cup lukewarm water
1/4 tsp dry yeast

preferment after overnighting it mixed and covered at room temperature
3.5 cups flour
0.75 cups semolina (cream of wheat grain, but just the grain!)
2 tsp salt
1.5 tsp yeast
1.5 cups olive oil
2 cups lukewarm water

+ parmesan, rosemary, or other toppings of choice

Mix down the preferment the evening before (10-15 hours before preparing the dough).

In a large bowl mix flour, semolina, salt, yeast. Pour in 1/3 cup olive oil and the water. Add in the preferment and knead in the bowl until mixed. It's likely very sticky at this point.

Sprinkle a surface with flour and pour out the dough on it. Knead for 5 minutes adding flour as necessary. This yields a sticky, elastic dough.

Cover with a damp kitchen cloth and allow to rest for 20 minutes. Then pull out into a rectangle and fold into a letter-fold. Cover and rest again. Repeat this three times.

The dough makes two 9x11 inch breads. Take the baking shapes and oil the bottoms of each with 1/4 cup olive oil. Cut the dough in half and place it into the baking shapes. Pour 1/3 cup of olive oil on top and dimpling it with your fingers press the dough into the baking shape. The oil may seem a bit much, but it keeps the bread deliciously moist in the end. And olive oil is healthy!

Cover the baking shapes and allow to rest for 2-4 hours at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 500F and bake the breads for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 450F and complete the baking process (5-10 more minutes). Remove onto a cookie rack to cool.

Serve with sweet balsamic vinegar, fresh mozzarella, basil and red, ripe tomatoes.

I usually make this with a rosemary olive oil: 1/2 cup of fresh rosemary leaves warmed in the olive oil the night before when I make the preferment. Don't fry the spice!

Then I allow the oil mix to sit at room temperature in a jar before using it the next day. I strain the oil and put the actual rosemary leaves on top of the bread with some Parmesan cheese before baking.

This recipe is altered from cookingbread, you can find it among my references. I tried it according to the recipe there, and then later simplified: I don't use bread flour, and don't rest the dough overnight in the fridge. My bread was nicer without the overnighting period; it had a better crumb structure. But both recipes yield a delicious focaccia.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pudding waffles

The best breakfast food, ever. Originally this used to be a Sunday afternoon snack in our household. The only thing my godfather ever cooked or baked for us. He would sit by the table with our old waffle iron making piles of fresh, crunchy outside, moist inside waffles. And we would always eat them with fresh-cooked chocolate pudding and real whipped cream with a slight hint of vanilla.

The recipe got adopted into my new household as a breakfast food. It's not too sweet, and it definitely tides you over till lunch. Also, the caffeine dose from the chocolate really makes mornings a smoother affair.
2-3 small, freshly-made waffles per person
your choice of pudding, the cooked versions are better
whipped cream

Layer the waffles on top of each other, spreading them with pudding. Decorate with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

If you don't have pudding powders for the cooked pudding, try this for a simple chocolate cream:
Mix 1 tbsp cocoa powder, 1 tbsp flour, 1/3 cup sugar. Add 1.3 cups of milk slowly. Cook until thick. Stir in one tbsp vanilla and 2 tbsp butter.
The pink cream on the picture is a rum-raisin pudding. Delicious!

Bon appetit!

Vegetarian pork rind biscuits

OK, I know this sounds very strange to any non-Hungarian reader, but I promise, there's an explanation for the title. In Hungary a traditional flavoring for a certain kind of bread rolls (pogacsa) is pork rind pieces. It gives the rolls a complex flavor, and adds crunchy bits. Recently I discovered that the flavor and texture can be replicated without the use of pork rind. And the rolls were really delicious!

3.5 cups all-purpose flour
0.5 cup oats
1 cup water
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dry yeast
4 tbsp (60g) butter

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, add the warm water, sesame oil and chop in the butter. Mix and then knead for 5-10 minutes on a floured surface. Add more flour as necessary to yield a smooth, elastic dough.

Add a tbsp oil to a bowl. Shape the dough into a ball and turn it in the oil a few times to lightly coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to double in size (1-2 hrs).

Punch down the dough and shape. I rolled some into a baguette shape and prepared some round rolls as well.

You can cut in the baguette-shaped one with scissors and pull the sections to different sides. This increases the amount of crust and makes it easier to separate into individual portions later. Not to mention it's pretty as well!
Place on a baking sheet lightly sprinkled with semolina or cornmeal. Allow to rest for another 45 minutes.
Before the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 400F. Right before placing the bread in the oven, spray the oven with water. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until it reaches the desired crust coloring.

Allow to cool on a cookie rack.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cottage cheese filled jelly-roll

A simple but elegant dessert, this one uses the Hungarian standard cottage cheese, which is not the chunky, nut rather like the whipped one. Almost Ricotta like.
The final product is a very light and fruity cake, sure to impress any guest.

Jelly roll:
4 eggs
4 tbsp flour
3.5 tbsp sugar
1tbsp baking powder
red fruit jam or marmalade

1/2 pound (250g) cottage cheese
2 tbsp rum
1/5 pound (100g) icing sugar
1/5 cup (50mL) peach juice
10g (one packet) gelatin powder
4/5 cup (200mL) cream, whipped
a few slices of canned peaches, drained well

Butter and flour a 9x11 inch baking shape. Preheat the oven to 400F. Separate the four eggs into two bowls. Mix the egg yolks with the sugar until white and fluffy. Sift the flour with the baking powder on top. Mix till smooth. Beat the egg whites until it becomes a solid foam. Fold it carefully into the yolk mixture.
Pour into the baking shape and bake till golden brown. When done, move onto a slightly wet, non-fluffy kitchen cloth and roll up while still warm.

When it cooled down, unroll and spread with jam. Roll it back up and cool it in the fridge covered with plastic wrap.
When it's cool, line a round-bottom loaf pan with aluminum foil, with enough hanging over the edge to later cover the top. Slice the jelly roll into 1/4 inch slices and use them to line the baking shape.
Now it's time to make the filling. Mix the cottage cheese, sugar and rum until smooth. Dissolve the gelatin in the peach juice, heating and stirring till clear. Mix together the cottage cheese mix, the gelatin solution and the whipped cream.

Pour into the jelly-roll-lined shape. Distribute evenly and press drained slices of canned peach into the filling. Cover the top with the remaining jelly roll slices and then with aluminum foil. Allow to rest overnight.
On the next day, uncover and flip onto a cake cutting board. Carefully peel off the aluminum foil. Slice and serve.

Bon appetit!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Reuben bread

This particular experiment makes use of two different microorganisms: a yeast culture is used for the bread making, and a bacterial one for the lactic fermentation of cabbage. While I have made sauerkraut in the past, for this recipe I used some fresh sauerkraut from the local Deli, as the canned ones are less crunchy.

This recipe makes a delicious, filling meal and keeps well if frozen. I skipped the rye flour in favor of a simple, all-purpose, unbleached type.

1.25 cups warm water
1 tbsp olive oil
2.75-3 cups flour
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp ground caraway seeds
1/2 tbsp honey

1/3 cup thousand island or russian dressing
1/4 pound thin-sliced corned beef
1/4 pound thin-sliced Swiss cheese
1.5 cups well drained sauerkraut
1 egg white

Mix the warm water, olive oil and honey in a large bowl. Add the caraway seed, yeast and 1.5 cups of flour to the mixture. Blend well and allow to rest for 10 minutes uncovered. Add in the salt and the remaining flour half a cup at a time, mixing each time flour is added. When it becomes hard to mix with a spoon, pour onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough for 5-6 minutes adding small amounts of flour as required.

When the dough is smooth and elastic, a little on the sticky side, add a little bit of oil to a clean bowl. Form the dough into a ball and turn it around in the bowl to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1 hour.

At this point, get all your ingredients for the filling. Lightly flour a surface and pour out the dough onto it. Knead a few times and roll out into a 9 by 11 inch rectangle. Leaving two inches on all sides free, spread half of the thousand island dressing onto the dough. Layer the meat and cheese on top, and spread the remaining dressing on top of the cheese. Cover with the sauerkraut.

Now cut around 1/2 inch wide strips along the long sides of the dough. Fold up the edges that remain on the short side and cover the top by pulling the strips onto the filling.

Brush the top with the whipped egg white. You can sprinkle caraway seeds on the top.

Line a cookie sheet with baking paper, or just dust it with cornmeal ahead of time. Move the bread onto it and allow to rest for 30 minutes. This can be tricky, you may need two people or a pizza peel to move the bread. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 375F.

When the 30 minutes are up, bake the bread for 30-40 minutes, until the top turns golden brown. Cool on a cookie rack.

Slice and serve with more thousand island dressing!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Home made "creamy"

This is a secret recipe I've learnt from my grandma. The Hungarian name of the cake means creamy (kremes). Looking at the pictures you can probably tell why. It's essentially the Hungarian equivalent of the 'vanilla slice', 'custard slice', 'Napoleon' or 'Mille Feuille'.

I can't really share the recipe of this one, but I'm going to list the ingredients.
The idea is to make a home-made phyllo dough and fill it with an unbelievably delicious vanilla pastry cream.

150g flour + water
200g flour + 150g lard/butter

1liter (quart) milk
400g sugar (2 cups)
6 eggs
10 tbsp flour
2 tbsp vanilla sugar
100g butter

As a note to myself: the dough needs to spend 15 minutes tightly wrapped in the fridge between folding sessions. It becomes crumbly if it rests for longer!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Simply BREAD

I'm a devoted breadivore. Really. So is my husband. I think it's fair to say that both of us would pick bread as our primary source of starch.

As a little kid I loved to bake things, but all my experiments used baking powder or soda as leavening. Not until UWC (United World College-where I went to high school) did I graduate as a proper baker: one who mastered the art of culturing Saccharomyces cerevisiae aka: baker's yeast. My teacher was a Jordanian guy, who was into 'quick' bread-making. Which fitted our ever-hungry, teenage crowd just fine.

I have since made danishes, croissants, brioche dough, focaccia, pita and many-many other forms of bread. These days I'm into the process. Waiting. Fermenting. Allowing the gluten to rest.

So, it is no surprise that I delighted in finding an 8qt, cast-iron pot with a matching lid under my Christmas tree: Jim Lahey's method for baking bread uses such a Dutch oven to make the perfect, chewy, crusty bread with the ultimate crumb structure.

If you love bread, but have been afraid of kneading it: this is for you!

1/4 tsp dry yeast
1.25 tsp salt
3 cups flour (all purpose, unbleached)
1.5 cups water
cornmeal to dust

In a large bowl mix the flour, salt and yeast. Add the room-temperature water and mix quickly until it comes together. Do NOT overwork!

Cover with foil and allow to sit at room temperature for 14 hours.

Pour out onto a floured surface and fold 2-3 times. Cover with a plastic wrap and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

Generously dust a dry kitchen cloth (not the linty kind) with cornmeal. With as few moves as possible, form the dough into a ball and place it onto the cornmeal seam-side down. Dust the top with cornmeal and fold the cloth over it. Allow to rest for 2 hours.

Half an hour before the dough finished rising, preheat the oven to 450F with the Dutch oven and its lid inside. When the dough is ready, flip it into the preheated pot. Cover with the lid and bake at 450F for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for longer if you would like the top crust darker.

Makes the perfect 1.5 pound loaf. Jim Lahey's "My Bread" has many more recipes starting from the same no-knead system.

Bon appetit!
This was incredibly delicious with home-made apricot marmalade. Yes, marmalade, not jam!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Breakfast pizza

A late night experiment after having run out of my usual pizza toppings: breakfast pizza, topped with something no self-respecting pizza should ever see: eggs.

A very easy recipe, that turned out surprisingly delicious: scramble three eggs, cooking them with salt and two tbsp milk only to thicken them a bit, take my favorite pizza dough (described earlier herein), top it with home cooked pizza sauce (also described on this blog), add dollops of the liquidish eggs, top with cheese, onion, and pepperoni (or sausage, if you have any). Bake till the the cheese is golden brown!

This was delicious, the eggs were moist and tasty, and fit with the other toppings perfectly. Give it a try!

Thursday, January 7, 2010


A savory dish that always calls the 'unfriable' potato incident to mind, in which my husband and I miserably failed to deep fry potatoes...even though the oil was hot and we kept the potato chunks there for ages.
Eventually they all fell apart, but did not brown. We don't have an explanation for the event, but to avoid its recurrence we now prepare this dish with oven-fries. And the verdict: it works!

2 chicken breasts
4 cloves of finely chopped garlic
4 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp Piros Arany (Hungarian crushed pepper sauce)
3 tbsp vegetable oil
black pepper
6 medium potatoes

Take the chicken breasts and cut them into small pieces. Heat the garlic in 2 tbsp of oil in a sauce pan. Once fragrant, add the ketchup and crushed pepper sauce, stir and heat for 10-20 more seconds. Add the chicken pieces, stir and season with salt and a little black pepper. Stirring occasionally, keep cooking on low heat, until done. Don't add water.

Peel and dice the potatoes, and toss them with one tbsp oil on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Salt lightly. Bake in a 400F preheated oven for 30-40 minutes (till light brown).

When done, remove from the foil and stir into the saucy chicken bits. Serve with a salad, and extra ketchup, if so desired.

A wonderful junk food, and not as unhealthy as it may seem.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Breakfast burritos

I have to admit the idea came from McDonalds: I once read on their billboard about breakfast burritos, and I liked the concept of sticking eggs and sour cream together. Now, I don't know how the McDonalds burritos actually tasted, but I've heard from reliable sources that my version is unbeatable :-)

for two people:
2 medium, soft, flour tortillas
6 slices of pepperoni
2 eggs
2 tbsp sour cream
2 tbsp chopped onions
2 tbsp chopped Cubanelle peppers
2 oz grated sharp Vermont cheddar
spicy sauce
chopped tomatoes and feta cheese optional

Preheat your oven with a cookie sheet in it to approximately 350 °F.

Heat the pepperoni slices in a teflon pan on medium. When they released some grease, spread it on the bottom of the pan. Don't remove the pepperoni slices. Whip up two eggs, add salt to taste and pour them on top of the pepperoni. Lower the heat to somewhere between medium and low.

While the eggs are cooking, toast the flour tortillas in the oven. Just toss them onto the cookie sheet for a minute on each side. You don't want them to get hard. When done, place the tortillas onto plates. (And don't forget to turn off the oven...I always do)

When one side of the eggs is done, turn them and cook the other side as well. Do not overcook, allow the eggs to remain moist!

Distribute the eggs onto the warm tortillas, spread sour cream, onions, peppers (feta and tomatoes, if you so desire...yumm!) and finally top with the grated cheese. Fold up and drizzle with spicy sauce on top.

A great, proteinacious, solid, European-style breakfast. This will definitely keep you from experiencing hypoglycemia halfway to lunch.