27 September 2008

Daring Bakers and the Lavash Cracker

The challenge for this month was Lavash Crackers from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Natalie from Gluten A Go-Go and Shelly from Musings from the Fishbowl. We had creative license for the flavoring of the crackers, as well as the dip that accompanies it, though it had to be vegan. I settled on oregano and kosher salt as the topping and a cucumber salsa I saw in a Vegetarian Times magazine.

My thoughts on this dough was that it seemed like a basic pizza dough-like recipe. Also, I don't think my dough rose enough, so I probably should have put it in a warmer place.

When it came time to roll it out, I couldn't get the gluten to relax and, as you can see in the picture, as soon as I cut out a shape it shrunk. Bummer. I had enough remaining dough to stretch out in a rectangle as best I could and sliced into larger rectangles.

The salsa was really good, cucumber, avocado, seeded and deveined jalapeños, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, and kosher salt. A nice twist from a tomato-based salsa and it was like a chunky guacamole, too.

The lavash crackers, though, I wasn't too impressed. It tasted like chewy pizza dough and didn't have the characteristic of a cracker at all. Judging by the other Daring Bakers, I did something wrong because theirs came out well, and I think it was that the dough didn't really rise so the gluten didn't develop as much as it should have. I might try this again, though, because it seems like I should have gotten a pita-chip like cracker from it, and it should have browned more, too.

Don't forget to peruse through the Daring Baker blogroll to read more.


26 September 2008

All-Purpose Cilantro Pesto

Confession: I have never made fresh basil pesto. I made a variant once with dry basil, but never ever have I made basil pesto. That must somehow have stunted my culinary growth, but I made up for it by making cilantro pesto yesterday.

First, you start with cilantro that has been stemmed and rinsed. Actually, I normally don't rinse any fruit, vegetable, or herb unless it has dirt on it, which this had. I didn't want 'essence of soil' in my pesto.

Garlic and lime (for flavor and to prevent discoloration. Also, garlic helps prevent colds, which I can say works because my mom gave us (my brothers and me) a garlic supplement all the time when we were kids and we didn't get sick very often. In fact, I'm rarely sick now and I eat some form of raw garlic most days of the week. So do yourself a favor and make pesto, and if you're worried about garlic breath, don't, because the garlic cloves were small and gave flavor without being overwhelming.

Typically, a traditional basil pesto uses pine nuts or walnuts, but for this I used cashews. If I had pepita seeds I would have used those.

After pulsing the cashews a bit, you dump in all the cilantro and pulse to coarsely combine.

Open the lid, squeeze in half a lime, then cover with the lid and, with the processor running, pour in the olive oil.

Open the lid, dump in the smashed garlic that you forgot to add earlier along with kosher salt and black pepper, then process just until combined.

Using a spatula, scrape out the pesto into a bowl. Taste for seasonings.

One ingredient you may have noticed that was missing is the parmesan cheese. I made a variation of cilantro pesto with parmesan a few months ago, but I thought that it detracted from the cilantro taste so I omitted it this time.

I was curious as to how the cashews would taste, but the nuttiness from the cashews really compliments the cilantro and doesn't overpower it at all. I added a little more lime juice, a quarter section, and as for the salt, just add a bit at a time until it suits your taste (because I forgot to measure it).

What makes this all-purpose is the many ways you can use it. I made this as a spread for subs, but you could use it as marinade/rub for beef, chicken, pork, or as a topping for fish. A condiment for Mexican dishes, a different take on salsa verde or a different topping for bruschetta.

Print this recipe

All-Purpose Cilantro Pesto
Recipe by Christina Provo
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Yields 1 cup

Ingredients -

2 cups fresh cilantro leaves (rinsed if needed), packed
1/3 cup cashews (pepita seeds would be a good substitute)
3 medium sized garlic cloves, smashed
Juice from half a lime
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions -
  1. Pulse the cashews a few times in the food processor until coarsely chopped. Place all the cilantro, garlic and lime juice in and pulse a few more times.

  2. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.


22 September 2008

Continuing the Trend

Part two of my series of three food blog trends continues with my first official post of No-Knead Bread. I follow the recipe featured on The Martha Stewart Show with Jim Lahey, the creator. This version is only slightly different in a few of the measurements, but the technique is the same.

A brief overview, 'no-knead bread' is made by mixing the flour with a tiny bit of yeast, water, and salt, mixed to incorporate all the ingredients, then left to rise and ferment for 12-18 hours (I always go for 18).

The next day, the dough will have doubled in size, be stringy and bubbly (gluten power!), and look slightly collapsed. Looking at the picture, you can see how much the dough developed with just a little yeast and many hours.

Out of the container and onto a floured board, you fold the dough twice over itself and let rest for 15 minutes.

After the resting period, you fold it onto itself again, but this time four times to make an envelope-like shape. Tuck the sides underneath gently and quickly, then place the dough, seam-side down, on a wheat bran-lined flour cloth that's on a baking sheet.

When the dough has proofed for 2 hours and the cast iron pot has heated up, the dough is plopped into the pot, covered, and cooked at a temperature of 500°. Covering the pot creates a steamy environment which aids in creating a crispy crust that proves to be a challenge for many of us. I go for 30 minutes covered, and 15 minutes uncovered.

As you can see, the loaf has risen dramatically, has a nice artisan look to it, and browned beautifully.

Remove the bread from the pot immediately, and listen to the crackling choir that emanates from the loaf. Seriously. I literally do listen to the crackling for a few seconds each time.

I must admit that I haven't given much effort into making regular artisan breads, except for the biyearly baguettes that have come out quite well for me, so to produce a loaf of bread with this type of crust and the crumb structure is pretty nice for how little time I spend with it. It also has a really nice fermented flavor, similar to recipes that have a sponge, old dough, and many slow rising times. The only downside is that it seems just a tiny bit gummy, but you can't tell when you eat it.

My favorite way to eat this bread is toasted and spread with butter. Regular homemade sandwich bread is also good, but there's something about the no-knead bread toasted that takes toast to the next level.


12 September 2008

Leftover Cookies

The title is a bit misleading. You see, apparently I make cookie dough, cook around a dozen, then put the remaining dough in the fridge or freezer for later. The cookies in the front, flourless peanut-chocolate cookies, to which I didn't add the peanuts and used coconut instead, were from the weekend, while the oatmeal-coconut-cherry chip cookies were from a few months ago. Oops!

Surprisingly enough, the oatmeal cookie dough didn't suffer from freezer burn or anything, so it baked up well. The peanut cookies are my go-to recipe when I want something sweet, fast, though I've made it so often that it's getting old. Still delicious, though.



11 September 2008

10 September 2008

Coffee! Coffee! Coffee!

I can't get enough of it. Iced, espresso, chocolate-covered coffee beans, coffee as the liquid in baked stuff, and espresso powder in cookies, brownies, etc. I drink so much of it that coffee runs through my veins. So, continuing the trend of recipes I never get around to baking until much later, this recipe for Cafe Latte Cookies from Baking Bites has been on my mind for a long time now.

The recipe makes a mostly chewy, buttery, somewhat caramely cookie with the undertones of espresso (I subbed espresso powder for 1 tbsp of the instant coffee). What could be better than eating a slightly caffeinated cookie with a cup of coffee?

What stood out to me in this recipe was that it said to 'let the cookies cool on the sheet for 10 minutes before removing'. I figured it aided in the texture without the risk of overcooking if kept in the oven longer. I didn't make the second sheet without doing that step, so I can't say for sure.

This cookie is also known as 'The Neiman-Marcus Cookie'. What that makes me want to do is take the homemade version and compare it to their cookie at their cafe. I'm thinking it might taste like a SBUX cookie, though.

I'm renaming these to 'Epic Cookies'. The texture was right between chewy and cakey, and the taste was all the goodness of a chocolate chip cookie dough, but with more of a caramel taste and undertones of espresso. I kept tasting a slight bitterness, but by the next day I didn't taste that at all. These cookies hold well, too, so it's perfect as a slight caffeinated jolt on-the-go. Chocolate-covered espresso beans would be great in these, I say.


09 September 2008

Baked Oatmeal

Oat mixture

I had been wanting to make baked oatmeal for a while. Actually, I made it once before, but it didn't come out so well. In was rainy and cold yesterday, so this was perfect for breakfast.

Since I didn't have any milk left, I used soy milk. I decreased the amount of sugar from 1/2 to 1/4 cup, and used peach applesauce.

It smelled really great while baking, though the peach applesauce gave it a rather fake, instant oatmeal aroma. (Going on trips was always really fun when I was a kid because it meant flavored instant oatmeal for breakfast! I was easy to please as a kid.)

By the time this finished baking, I was pretty hungry and didn't think about plating at all. I apologize for not remembering my readers, but you know I mean well!

This was amazing. Warm, heartier than regular oatmeal, and it wasn't dry. I drizzled my oatmeal with a bit of honey for the taste, though the level of sweetness was already perfect (good thing I decreased the brown sugar). It was slightly buttery from the 2 tablespoons of butter, and the peach applesauce blended in, so it didn't give it a fake taste. I used half golden raisins, half dried berry blend, which gave it a wonderful flavor.

I've already searched teh interwebz to find some great recipes for pumpkin baked oatmeal and ginger baked oatmeal which I'm looking forward to trying. If you've never made this before, go and do it!

Baked Oatmeal
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Recipe from CookingLight.com


  • 2 cups uncooked regular oats

  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar

  • 1/3 cup raisins, or your choice of dried fruit

  • 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts, or your choice of nuts

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 cups fat-free milk

  • 1/2 cup applesauce, or enough grated apple to total 1/2 cup

  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

  • 1 large egg, beaten

  • Cooking spray


  1. Preheat oven to 375°.

  2. Combine the first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl. Combine the milk, applesauce, butter, and egg. Add milk mixture to oat mixture; stir well.

  3. Pour oat mixture into an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 20 minutes. Serve warm. (I let mine sit for 10 minutes, but I'm not sure if that is necessary.)


08 September 2008

Homemade Stove-Top Mac & Cheese

Boxed mac & cheese is right up there with ramen noodles when it comes to a quick meal. Here's a homemade version that doesn't take much longer than the box mixes.

This recipe makes a very creamy sauce that doesn't require a roux, and it's very satisfying without being too rich. You can play around with the add-ins to suit your taste. A favorite combination of mine is peas and tuna, and sliced hot dogs or bratwurst is always delicious. The original recipe calls for roasted tomatoes and a sprinkling of toasted bread crumbs, which also sounds very good.

Stove-Top Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from CookingLight.com
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  • 1/2 a head of broccoli florets

  • 12 ounces large elbow macaroni or medium shells

  • 2 cups extra-sharp cheddar cheese

  • 1 large egg, beaten

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

  • 1 tablespoon horseradish mayonnaise

  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  • 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

  • 1 cooked chicken thigh, shredded


  1. Place broccoli florets in a microwavable container. Cover with water, and microwave on 'fresh vegetable' setting just until tender. Drain; set aside.

  2. Cook macaroni in boiling water 7 minutes; drain. Return macaroni to pan; place over medium-low heat. Add cheese and remaining ingredients; cook 4 minutes or until cheese melts, stirring constantly. Stir in broccoli and chicken.

Makes about 8 1-cup servings



07 September 2008

Rethinking Chicken & Rice

There are many different, easy versions of chicken and rice, from the one-pot Campbell's Soup recipe, to box mixes and the like. But most don't really taste that great, which is why the recipe I found on a bag of jasmine rice really stood out to me.

The chicken and rice mixture is infused with jasmine tea, and the resulting taste is subtle, yet nice when combined with the chicken. I usually add garlic and portobello mushrooms, but this time I added apples and green peppers. The apples were a great contrast to the rice and added a pop of tart-sweetness. Some of the apples really cooked down and blended in nicely.
Because those two ingredients increased the water amount, the rice texture ended up being risotto-like instead of a bit sticky, but mainly separate. If you want a drier consistency, decrease the water to 1¼ cup.

Chicken & Double Jasmine Rice
From Dynasty Jasmine Rice
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  • 1 jasmine tea bag

  • 1 chicken bouillon cube (I usually use 1½-2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

  • 8 chicken thighs, excess skin and fat removed (I sprinkle the the chicken lightly with a bit of kosher salt)

  • ½ cup chopped onion

  • 5 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

  • 2 small, unpeeled Granny Smith apples, chopped

  • Half of a green pepper, chopped

  • ¾ cup jasmine rice

  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper


  1. Add tea bag to 1½ cups hot water; let stand 2 minutes. Remove and discard tea bag. Ad bouillon to tea to dissolve.

  2. Heat large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add butter to melt. Add chicken, in single layer. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until browned; remove from pan.

  3. Add onion, garlic, apples, and green pepper to same pan and sauté for 1 minute. Mix in rice, pepper, and tea mixture. Arrange chicken, in single layer, on top. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat. Let stand covered for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 servings


06 September 2008

The Count of Monte Cristo is a Vegetarian

This was meant to be a grilled veggie sandwich, but I opted to make a Monte Cristo instead. What makes it different is that you are basically making a savory stuffed French toast sandwich. I put a bit of chili powder, garlic powder, oregano, paprika, and kosher salt in the eggs to give it a little more flavor.

For the innards I went with green peppers, red onions, tomatoes, and muenster cheese, with a sprinkling of kosher salt and oregano. Satisfying and delicious.

I usually don't blog about complete randomness, but this Snickers 'Adventure Bar' was pretty good. The only difference from a regular Snickers bar is the addition of coconut. It was like a sweet-salty Mounds bar, which I really liked.

That's all.

05 September 2008

Polito's Redux

The grand reopening of Polito's Pizzeria was tonight, and of course I had to go.

The new restaurant definitely had a more spacious, open feel, and it was louder and colder than their other place. I mention the cold because I'm uber susceptible to cold and restaurants that are always cold.

We ordered a 'large thin works', with black olives, garlic, green peppers, mushrooms, and sausage.

The crust looked and felt more chewy and a slight bit doughy underneath the toppings than what I remembered. It had a rather crispy, buttery taste to it.

I always thought the underside looked rather distinct, slightly charred and it looked like there were dots.

The sauce seemed different, too, but I can't exactly say what's missing. I'm figuring it'll take a while to get back to where they were, especially if the dough was made using an 'old dough' method, which I don't know at all if they do. The atmosphere was upbeat and everyone seemed 'alive'.

I'll be back!

Polito's Pizza

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Muffins for Lunch

After seeing Adam's post for PB&J Muffins, I knew I would have to make it the very next day. Which is today.

I probably filled the cups with too much batter before I added a dollop of jelly, but it made the tops look pretty.

When you see a recipe, sometimes you contemplate making it because you aren't sure whether or not the end results will be to your satisfaction. Not so with these. See, I like making grilled pb&honey sandwiches because the combination of the warm and crunchy bready outtards combine with the warm and gooey peanut butter and honey and it makes one heck of a stellar sandwich. This is the muffinized version of that.

The only change I made was using regular peanut butter instead of natural peanut butter because I didn't have any left. Maybe that was why the peanutty taste wasn't as pronounced. It seemed to blend in with the whole wheat flour for an all-around nuttiness, it just didn't stand out as being peanut butter. I do think that regular pb tastes waxier than its natural counterpart, so I'm going with that theory.

Speaking of which, the amount of whole wheat made these rather substantial without feeling like a stone in your stomach. It makes for a perfect addition to lunch.

Corn Cakes, My Way

The corn cakes at IHOP left me with such a good impression that I attempted to replicate it at home. I adjusted my favorite pancake recipe, made the batter a little sweeter, and ate it with molasses (I forgot I had regular syrup, but molasses is a nice when paired with corn cakes).

The finished cakes were light, taller, and fluffier than IHOP's were, but I probably needed to add more cornmeal, more sugar, and liquid if I wanted mine to be exactly like theirs, but I'm fine with my adaption. The batter tasted really great, too!


04 September 2008

Routined Uniformacy

After a rather hectic weekend that was quite varied, the only thing I felt like going out and doing was something similar to a routine. The pickings are rather slim late at night, and the only places left open were places I could go to right at home. Nonetheless, my party and I settled on IHOP, which I've blasted in the past. Maybe I was in my right mind the last time I went, but my lingering impression was that IHOP wasn't any better than buying a pancake mix at the store, and that their syrup dispensers were always covered with syrup that stuck all over your hands when you picked it up. But never mind that, I wanted pancakes and I didn't want to make them. Also, I admit that I was thrown off by their Horton Hears a Who pancake cake, which really isn't any different than a giant banana split, but it's still weird. And I still think it's weird now.

I split an order of 'sweet crepes with eggs, bacon, and sausage' and 'corn cakes'.

The sweet crepes were Swedish Crepes with Lingonberry Jam and Lingonberry Butter. I have no idea what lingonberry is, and I still don't know. The jam just tasted berryish and sweet.

The corn cakes were basically that, a sweetened cornbread-turned pancake, but with just a touch of cornmeal.

Wow, IHOPS, or the one I ate at in Indy, was incredible. Really smooth, deep, and no bitterness. What that means is that you don't need cream or sugar to drink it, so it's coffee as God intended it to be, if Got intended us to drink coffee like we do at all... I like to say that America wouldn't have progressed as much as it had in the early days without coffee. And cowboys with their cattle drives sans coffee? Forget it.

Back on topic, as I sit here in SBUX, IHOPS' coffee was much better than here (I'm not drinking their regular brewed coffee... And why is that SBUX dude wiping off the tables outside when it's raining? No one is actually going to sit outside in the rain. Odd.

And now back to the food...

The Swedish crepes were interesting. Thinner than a pancake, for sure, but thicker than a French crepe. Also, it was eggier. The texture is best described as an edible rubber, though without the disgusting connotations implied with eating rubber. It didn't taste like rubber, it didn't really feel like rubber, but when you poked it with a fork, well, I don't know, it reminded me of rubber.

The lingonberry jam and butter were pleasant enough, especially mixed with regular syrup.

Now the corn cakes were the ultimate star. The flavor had an undertone of sweetness that mixed well with the cornbread taste, very light, fluffy, moist, and a touch of crispness. The blueberry syrup paired well with it. The 'butter pecan' tasted fake, the normal syrup was normal, and I didn't taste the strawberry at all.

This ends the night at IHOP. Yes, I was too quick to label IHOP as just another chain that wasn't any different than the rest, so I was either snobbish or out of my mind, or the one I ate at before truly was disgusting.
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