Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!!!

From my family to yours: 

 A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!! 

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because he has come to his people and redeemed them.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

The H Family 

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Scriptures: Luke 1:68, Luke 2:6 - 7

Friday, December 21, 2012

Salted Rosemary Croccantini: Why Buy the Best When You Can Make Better?

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Dear flat and crispy,

I love croccantini crackers.  Croccante is the Italian word for crispy or crunchy; -tini is a pluralized diminutive attached to the word, hence our cute little croccantini (if any Italian speakers know more on this, let me know, I have a very limited vocabulary!).

Last year, when I left for my Long Haul to Chicago, my cousin bequeathed upon me a large and full box of flat, salted, rosemary-infused-and-topped, fragrant crackers.  I wasn't too excited at first ("Oh good, a vehicle for my cheese") but then I ate one and ... well, then I ate the rest.

They were good.  Really good.

I semi-forgot about them for a while, wishing now and again I could find them but not recalling the name of the brand.  "I need to ask her where she got them," I resolved every time I thought of them.  I didn't know they were a Thing, popular in Italy with cheese for a snack, and produced by more than one manufacturer, until I stumbled my eyes across them in Trader Joe's.

Welcome to my cart, little box of crackers.

I took them home and quickly realized that in order to feasibly enjoy them in the quantity and frequency I desired, I would have to find a more fiscally responsible way to get them to my plate.  And following my rule of thumb for food - "If I can buy it, I can make it," - I headed straight to the kitchen.

I wanted the crackers to be whole wheat, or at least mostly so.  If not for the fact that unbleached flour is fairly pointless as far as nutrition goes, then for the fact that whole wheat has a more robust depth of flavor, somewhat nuttier and more hearty than white.

I strapped the baby to my back and got to work.  And let me tell you, it was worth the twenty to thirty minutes of experiential toil: these crackers are far and away better than the packaged version (why are we not shocked? Why?).  They taste better, have a meatier crunch, the salt and rosemary flavoring is controlled by me (more, more, more!!!), and they look a whole darn lot better, too.

My cracker - hearty, flavorful, well-seasoned

The store cracker - sparsely seasoned, pasty texture when chewing, snaps like a piece of brittle glass and explodes across the room, but still so good it inspired me to make my own.  Now, imagine how much deliciousness there must be in the homemade version!!

You can cut them into whatever size or shape you like.  Just don't re-roll the dough - cook the odd pointy scraps leftover from any fancy cutting you do, and enjoy them in their fun shapes.

It's simple: Mix the dry ingredients by hand, in the Vitamix cup with dry blade, or in a food processor ...

Add the wet ingredients. 

Pulse into a loose ball of dough. 

Dump said ball of dough onto a barely dusted work surface.

Mold gently by hand into a ball of firm, soft dough. 

Cut the dough into workable sizes.  Halved or quartered will be fine.  

Roll the first half or quarter out thin, thin, thin.  This is a quarter of the dough, rolled out.  Brush with olive oil.

Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and dried rosemary; I rolled over it with the rolling pin to ensure the seasonings stuck in, or you can use your hand.

Cut into the desired shape: use a pizza cutter, decorate with a dough roller docker if you wish, use cookie cutters, biscuit cutters, a knife, a glass, a bowl ... or bake whole, and break afterwards.

Just ten minutes at 450 F will do it.  Check at the halfway point to make sure you aren't burning it!

Enjoy with cheese, salami, spread, hummus, baba ghanoush, meats, pico de gallo ...

Salted Rosemary Croccantini
These are easy to make.  No particular skills needed, not even very much time - I made them between chores on a busy afternoon, on a whim, with a baby dangling from the carrier on my back.  Now, imagine how much easier it must be without the baby! I weighed my flour, as you will see following, because I wanted to have precise measurements.  Scooping, fluffing, or scraping flour out of the container is just not accurate enough, although it can get you a good approximation.  

1 cup (156 g) whole wheat or white whole wheat white whole wheat
3/4 cup (106.5 g) bread flour (I used King Arthur white bread flour)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 generous tablespoon chopped rosemary (see below), more or less depending on your preference
1/2 cup filtered water
1/3 cup olive oil
Extra olive oil for brushing
Sea salt, additional dried rosemary, and other optional herbs for topping

Heat oven to 450.  Adjust rack to the middle; if you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven.  If not, put a large cookie sheet in the oven.

Using a Vitamix or food processor: Add dry ingredients and pulse to mix; pour oil and water into the well and pulse from low to hi, repeatedly, until a scrappy, loose ball of dough forms.  It should only take a few revolutions.  

By hand: Using your hands, a pastry or dough cutter or two forks, blend the dough until a scrappy, loose ball of dough forms.  

Both methods:  Dump the dough onto a lightly dusted work surface.  Gather and gently work it into a ball of dough.  Using a knife, cut into halves or quarters (quarters are easy to work with).  

On unfloured, ungreased parchment paper, roll the dough out until it is thin, thin, as thin as you can make it.  Then, a little thinner.  Brush with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and rosemary.  If you like, add other herbs such as thyme, basil, or flavors such as granulated garlic.  

Pick up the parchment paper and place it in the heated oven on your stone or cookie sheet.  Bake for ten minutes in the heated oven, checking at the halfway point and near the end to ensure it isn't burning.  

Remove when it is browning at the edges and looks dry and croccante

Note: Do not use a Silpat/silicone baking mat.  The heat is too near the maximum temperatures for the silicone (480 is where they top out), especially if you are using a baking stone.  You will end up with a smoking kitchen and crackers that taste oddly like plastic.  How do I know?  I tried.  Thank me later!

Chopped or Powdered Rosemary
I used dried rosemary from our garden for this.  The Krups Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder is my preferred weapon of choice: it lasts notoriously long (years, years, decades), is loud but not deafening, is pretty cheaply priced and best of all does the job required of it with speed and efficiency.  

Strip leaves from the woody stems.

Using a coffee or spice grinder, pulse rosemary 4 times for 1 second to chop coarsely.

To grind into a powder, pulse for about four or five seconds several times, until the fineness you desire is achieved.

Our family of rosemary, left to right: Whole, coarsely chopped, powdered.

Crisping and crunching,

Mrs H

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Booklist: Top Picks and Recommendations

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Dear Reader,

If you are hunting for a last-second Christmas gift, or just in the mood to find some new literature for your shelves, here are my top cookery-book recommendations!  While I love all the books in my collection and many not listed here get used very frequently, these are the books I go to the most.  I keep these ones close to the kitchen, and their pages are oily, splattered, scribbled on and well-loved!

Click here to see a complete booklist of the cookery guides in my kitchen.  

Click here to read reviews I wrote for books we gave away in the past here on the blog, and for the San Francisco/Sacramento Book Review.  

Home Preserving, Canning, and DIY

Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving  A must-have guide for any homemaker.  Not only covering the rudiments of canning - explaining in detail and with illustrations how to both pressure can, and water-bath can - this book also address freezing and dehydrating, the other two most popular forms of food storage.  With recipes that have become our family favorites, and simple, straightforward instructions on everything from jerky to chutney to pickles to flash-frozen kale, this book is a staple for the kitchen shelf!  See the pickles we made here.

Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects  A favorite of mine, it has my most-well-loved recipe for lemon curd, an egg pasta I can hardly live without, and a collection of popsicle recipes that saw me through the hottest, sweatiest days of a post-partum summer!  I absolutely love this book, and every recipe I have tried from it has been an A+ winner.  And the sequel, which I don't yet own, is doubtless just as wonderful and beautiful: Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It: And Other Kitchen Projects

The America's Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook  An outstanding book that every DIYer, urban homesteader, home cook and processed-free-fan should absolutely own.  Read my full review here.  If you take anything home today, let it be this book.

Baking and Bread-Making

Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day  If you are one of those cooks like me who wasted untold bags of flour and yeast on bread that came out thick, heavy, ugly, and lumpy ... Welcome this book with open arms.  Regardless of your skill level, Reinhart will perfect and upgrade your bread, bun, pizza-dough, cinnamon-roll, biscuit, baguette and boule skills to the level of artisan.  I always wanted to eliminate store-bought bread items from our kitchen, but my bread wasn't nearly satisfactory and it always seemed so complicated a chore.  After this book came to our home (recommended by Miz Carmen), we stopped buying bread.  See a sample recipe here.  

King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking: Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains (King Arthur Flour Cookbooks)  Another recommendation from the Miz, this book is a winner.  It is my particular delight to choose a new item every few days to accompany our dinner, and this book wormed it's way right into the center of my heart.  I love it.  I love it.  Recipes for cookies, bread, cake, biscuits, all the usual plus more - and all using whole grains, delicious, wonderful, comforting, beautifully laid out and with two sections of photos.  See a sample recipe here, and here.  

Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie  My mom got me this book for Christmas and I almost cried the first time I made the crust and it turned out so exquisitely!  A beautiful, thorough compendium on PIE, this book is not only beautiful, but useful.  

The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook: All the joy and variety of baking-the experience and tradition of America's most historic flour company (King Arthur Flour Cookbooks)  My second cookbook ever (the first was this, a book which I still own and LOVE the recipes from), this book has all the important recipes, variations, lessons, tips, tricks and even historical anecdotes for anything Flour that comes out of the kitchen, from doughnuts to butter cake to sourdough starter to waffles! This book is possibly (being one of the oldest in my collection and well-loved) one of the very messiest I own!

General Cooking Guides: All-Purpose In the Kitchen

The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition  Outstanding book covering all the basics of the kitchen: every cook should own this book.  Every recipe is a go-to, trustworthy and successful dish.  I have never had a flop from this book!  See a sample recipe here, sourced from a book that is a shorter selection of recipes from this one.  

Nourishing Traditions:  The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats  An excellent book for everybody learning to make their own yogurt, soak their own grains and brew their own medicine.  Read my full review here.  

The America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook: A Faster, Smarter Way to Cook Everything from America's Most Trusted Test Kitchen  This book is so much fun!  I love how the recipes in it can be whipped out in short order (but big flavor!), and it has been my saving grace more than a few times.  Read my full review here.

Soups, Stews, and Big Pots

Twelve Months of Monastery Soups  I cannot recommend this book strongly enough.  My older sister owned it growing up, and when I married Mr H I instantly went and bought this book (actually, I bought it just before we got married, so I wouldn't have to live a day without it).  Whenever I have a quick dinner I need, a long dinner I can start early, or a vegetable I am at a loss for, I flip through this very simple, spare book.  Lots of recipe, very little extra foofoo, it gets straight to the point.  All the soups have been winners, from Avocado Veloute to my age-old classic well-loved dearly-adored Caldo Verde!  See a sample recipe here.  

Recipes from the Root Cellar: 270 Fresh Ways to Enjoy Winter Vegetables  I accidentally left this book at my friends' house and she texted me how she was secretly glad I did!  When I came a few days later to pick it up, she said she was hastily trying to finish reading the entire thing!  Not only have I been stunned and boggled by the quality of the dishes in Chesman's repertoire, but I love her seasonal take on produce, especially useful to me since I prefer to cook with local and in-season foods.  Tackle turnips, love leeks, and krunch kale with all her fantastic recipes! 

Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever with More Than 400 Easy-to-Make Recipes  As you well know, this book has melted into my kitchen with such love that I can't even get it off my kitchen counter.  This is the best slow cooker book available! Read my full review here.  

Cooking Under Cover: One Pot Wonders -- A Treasury of Soups, Stews, Braises, and Casseroles  I "borrowed" this book from my mom three years ago.  Still "borrowing" it.  Can't let her "have" it back .. Ever!  I love how the recipes in this book all go into one pot, and come out like gourmet, way-too-much-work-went-into-this dazzlers.  Whenever I use a recipe from this book, I feel like a fancy chef (the book includes wine pairings, in case you are a fancy chef!) and I've never had anybody turn down a meal from this book, ever! 

Specialty Cooking: Sweets, Drinks, Entertaining

The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments  Don't let yourself head into another summer season without this ice-cream guide to see you through!  No longer can I eat store-bought ice cream (Dreyers?  Please ... spare me the sixty ingredients!), not after enjoying real ice cream.  The chocolate ice cream in this book?  So wicked, you can only eat a tiny bowl.  The cream cheese?  Ginger?  Lemon?  Tin Roof Sundae?  Stop me, please!  I love this book.  See a sample recipe here.  

Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust  This book is one of the newest in my collection, so I actually can't say it is splattered yet.  But I wanted to include it here because I truly enjoy all of Ina Garten's cooking so much.  I was introduced to her friendly cooking show when I was working as a hospice volunteer, and one of the patients I sat with wanted to watch her show many times.  I realized how easy her cooking was, how simple, straightforward, and fresh.  Using just a few quality ingredients, she was setting a table that looked out of this world!  Read my full review here. 

The Versatile Vita-Mix  You know why I wanted this book so badly (read why here!), and now that I have it I am loving every minute of it!   From smoothies to johnnycake, this book has been a family standby since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, and I am more than proud to have it join my collection now!

Homeopathy, Gardening, and Lifestyle

Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Fifth Edition: A Practical A-to-Z Reference to Drug-Free Remedies Using Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs and Food Supplements  This book isn't a doctor, but it can help pinpoint the causes of various malaises and offers solutions from the comfort of your home.  

The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre!  An excellent guide for homesteaders today, this book will get you started on hog-raising and gardening!  Read my full review here.  

Vertical Vegetables and Fruit: Creative Gardening Techniques for Growing Up in Small Spaces  Read my full review here.

Culinary Reactions: The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking  An informative guide that will leave you better equipped for improvising, creating and experimenting with fewer flops in the kitchen!  Read my full review here.

World Cuisine

Giada's Kitchen: New Italian Favorites  Great, simple recipes - all of them delicious; lots of color photographs! 

Where Flavor Was Born: Recipes and Culinary Travels Along the Indian Ocean Spice Route  This is a big fat book with lots of revolutionary (to the Westerners) and flavorful ways to use spices.  I enjoy international cooking for the simple reason that, while not only bringing new flavors and textures to my plate, it also expands my view of certain foods and helps shift paradigms in thinking about say, cinnamon or star anise.  

Ray's Boathouse: Seafood Secrets of the Pacific Northwest  A book from my native Washington state, this beautifully appointed book is a sophisticated treatise on preparing fresh salmon, crab, lobster and more.  

Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets  What a gem this book is in my collection!  It has saved me more than once with an overful refrigerator of produce, while on the hunt for a new way to use some bountiful vegetable.  (Eggplant jam?  Summer squash pasta?) 

Italianissimo: Over 600 Great Recipes From Every Region of Italy  Actual italian recipes (think: not Olive Garden) with lots of pictures, although the pictures are not really my favorite part.  The best, fastest and easiest pizza crust I've seen yet is in this book; pizza bianca and acutal italian pizzas (no cheese!) will please everybody!

Gluten-Free, Vegan and Vegetarian Cooking

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes for Cupcakes that Rule  Looking to do some vegan baking?  This miniature book has way too many recipes for its size!  Read my full review here.  

Raw Food/Real World: 100 Recipes to Get the Glow  Almond milk, smoothies, cashew cheese and other excellent ways to prepare raw and vegan food: use as a supplement to your already-nutritious diet, to learn some new ways to prepare vegetables and nuts, or if you are a raw foodie it will be an excellent all-purpose "cook" book! 

Fresh From The Vegetarian Slow Cooker: 200 Recipes for Healthy and Hearty One-Pot Meals that are Ready when You are  I love this book - and recommend it to anybody starting a vegetarian diet (or vegan, as any recipes not vegan have alternate ingredient options).  It was a chance find in a bookstore and I am glad I stumbled across it; soups, lasagne, even dessert and appetizers are included - and all of them with ordinary ingredients you can find in the grocery store.  

Gluten-Free Vegan Comfort Food: 125 Simple and Satisfying Recipes, from "Mac and Cheese" to Chocolate Cupcakes  Unglutenites rejoice - lots of recipe titles you will recognize but in exciting - gluten-free - new ways!   Read my full review here.

Mrs H

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