May 30, 2010

Harissa and Goodness

When my roommate left she took the sriracha

I've taken quite a liking to hot sauce, so the situation had to be remedied.  I know there are tons of options in the supermarket but, I think that's part of the problem.  As with barbecue sauce, and salsa, and pasta sauce, and pretty much everything nowadays, there are too many choices.  Not the best situation for someone as indecisive as I am.  I compare price points, ingredient lists, brands, everything and, if after all that, nothing jumps out at me, I usually walk away empty handed and make my own.  I've already done this a few times with barbecue sauce and I do it pretty much all the time with marinara sauce; just a few weeks ago it was with crackers and this time, it's hot sauce.

Technically though, harissa is not a 'sauce' per se; it's more of a paste.  A delicious, vibrant red paste that will dye your wooden cutting board where it hits (not that I speak from experience or anything...).

I've never worked with dried chiles before but they weren't as intimidating as I'd imagined.  And the smell as they re-hydrated was kind of wonderful.  I was worried that such a high concentration of hot peppers would create an end product so spicy that I'd hardly be able to handle a teaspoon at a time but surprisingly, I found the heat from the harissa to be much more mild than I'd expected.

It's unlike any hot sauce I've used before and it compliments a number of dishes quite nicely.  I've had it on egg and avocado sandwiches in the morning, and with this millet and chickpea dish below, which was inspired by Heidi's Harissa Spaghettini.  As you can see, it's a very versatile condiment and one I would definitely suggest trying.

Make sure to wear gloves when you work with and de-seed the chiles. I learned this lesson the hard way, and more than once, with with a jalapeño. Most recipes call for whole spices/seeds but since I don't have a grinder I went with pre-ground. Also, the chiles I found were sold in 1 1/2 oz bags, so I just used 2 bags. No need to buy a whole 'nother bag just to used 1/2 an oz.
Adapted from Saveur and The Wednesday Chef

8 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed (about 2 oz)
8 dried new mexico chiles, stemmed (about 1 1⁄2 oz.)
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
1 1⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 clove garlic
Juice of 1/2 a lemon (optional)

Put chiles into a medium bowl, cover with boiling water, and let sit until softened, about 20 minutes. With gloved hands de-seed the chiles while immersed in water. Alternatively, you could drain them and then de-seed. (I found de-seeding in the water to be extremely easy-- by just lightly rubbing them between my fingers, the seeds would loosen and then I could dump them out).

Transfer drained chiles to the bowl of a food processor with the ground spices, olive oil, salt, garlic, and lemon juice. Purée, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the paste is very smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a glass jar or other receptacle and cover with a thin layer of olive oil. Refrigerate, topping off with more oil after each use. Paste will keep for up to 3 weeks.

Serves 1

1/2 cup cooked millet (about a scant 1/4 cup dry)
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 a small yellow onion, chopped
4 large leaves dinosaur kale
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
5 black or kalamata olives, quartered
1 roasted red pepper, thinly sliced
1- 2 tablespoons harissa
2 tablespoons 2% greek yogurt (optional)

Warm the millet in a small pot with a bit of extra water to moisten, or begin boiling water if you don't already have cooked millet on hand.

Sauté the onion in olive oil until translucent and then add the kale.  Continue to sauté until the kale has cooked down a bit.  Add the chickpeas, olives, and roasted red pepper.  Mix until warmed through.  Add the harissa and stir until everything is evenly coated.

Plate the millet and pour the harissa chickpea mixture over top.  Top with a large dollop of greek yogurt if desired.

May 23, 2010

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Some people are true carrot cake devotees and while I'm not one of them, that doesn't mean I don't enjoy a good carrot cake every now and then.  I made these cupcakes for my former roommate Helen's birthday a couple weeks ago (hey Helen!).  I say former roommate because she just moved out after getting a job in Lake Tahoe (!!) and let's just say I'm more than a little envious of her budding Northern California adventure. 

We had some people over to our place to celebrate her birthday and pawn her stuff off on.  And we had cupcakes and beer (keglet!) to entice people and lower there inhibitions about taking stuff they may or may not regret in the morning. 

Since I was making these cupcakes for people other than my whole-grain-loving self, I decided to make some healthy changes but not go all out.  I don't like disappointing a crowd and I don't want anyone to think I'm a crappy baker who makes cupcakes that taste like cinnamon flavored cardboard.  I very loosely adapted this recipe from a fondly remembered carrot cake sheet cake I made before I cared about "healthy modifications" and this recipe for carrot cake cupcakes from smitten kitchen

Some of the changes I made were to use half whole grain flour, substitute light coconut milk for part of the oil (I did this in my Revised Pumpkin Bread and had wonderful results), reduce the sugar and use less refined sugars.  Overall, I think they turned out really well though I probably could have used 3 eggs instead of 4 (I tried a piece hot out of the oven and it tasted slightly egg-y but once they were cooled and frosted that flavor was undetectable).  I was also a bit nervous about reducing the sugar from 2 cups to 1 1/3 but I think the sugar-high icing more than made up for that.  They were a crowd pleaser!

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/3 cups sugar [I used a mix of raw sugar and sucanat]
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
1/2 cup raisins [I used a mix of regular and golden]
1/2 cup raw walnuts, chopped
3/4 cup unsweetened light coconut milk
1/2 cup oil [I used sunflower oil]
4 eggs (could probably use 3 eggs)
3 cups carrots, washed and shredded or grated (depending on how thick you want the pieces)

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line or butter and flour 24 muffin cups.

Mix the flours, sugar, baking soda, salt, spices, raisins and walnuts together in a large bowl.  In a medium bowl, mix the coconut milk, oil, and eggs.  Add the wet mixture to the dry and fold in the grated carrots.  Mix until evenly combined. 

Pour in prepared pan and bake for about 15-18 minutes until a tester comes out clean.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
This is a smaller version of the frosting recipe I used.  I ended up with WAY too much frosting so hopefully this will yield a more reasonable amount.

1 8oz package Neufchatel Cheese (reduced fat cream cheese)
4oz whipped cream cheese
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons grade B maple syrup
2 1/2- 3 cups powdered sugar (add until you get the desired consistency)


Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl or Cuisinart adding the confectioners sugar a cup or so at a time.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

May 16, 2010

Simple, Healthy Mexican

Most people don't associate Mexican food with being healthy, or at least I didn't.  When I think of Mexican food I think of fried, heavy, cheesy deliciousness that makes you feel a little less than delicious after your meal.  But when you think about it, a lot of the ingredients in Mexican cuisine are pretty good for you: avocado, beans, tomatoes, onions, peppers, corn-- all good.

I got the idea for this dish from Angela's savory oats.  It's so simple I feel silly giving you a recipe, so I'm not going to.  Basically, I just cooked up some brown rice, heated a can of black beans and mixed them with a little chili powder and hot red pepper flakes- sauteed onion and peppers would be a great addition here but I was in a rush (read: lazy).  Then, I cut up a ripe avocado, pulled out a jar of salsa, and broke up a few Mary's Crackers (a great addition for crunch).  I plated (bowled?) it neatly for some visual appeal but ended up mixing and combining it as I ate.  Another happy edition would be a generous dollop of Greek yogurt (aka healthy sour cream) but unfortunately, I was out and, as previously mentioned, lazy.  The picture below is from another time I made this using extra veggies and nutritional yeast.

As much as I enjoy cooking and appreciate complexity, sometimes I just crave simple food.  This just makes me feel nourished.

May 1, 2010

Ridiculously Easy Whole Wheat Crackers

My roommate is coming home tomorrow! That deserves an exclamation point because she's been on a road trip with her boyfriend for the past month. They went to Denver first and then through California and up the Pacific Northwest and, I have to say, I was definitely jealous. I love San Francisco and I am itching to visit Portland and Seattle. I can't wait to hear all about her travels and see pictures!

But the point of all that is, I wanted to have something nice planned for when she got home (and to congratulate her on a job she just got!).  I went out and bought a bottle of her favorite wine varietal, Tempranillo, a deep red that's rich and fruity. I was also suckered into buying some AMAZING cheese at Whole Foods. The cheese guy gave me a sample and after tasting it, I could NOT turn it down, especially after I read the blurb which mentioned it went well with Tempranillo.  Just so you know, this cheese I got is called La Tur and it's produced by Alta Langa.  It's a creamy blend of cow's, goat's, and sheep's milk that's slightly tangy and incredibly spreadable. Waaay better than brie if you ask me.

But the point of all this is, I needed some crackers to go with the cheese. Whole Foods has great crackers (especially these ones called Raincoast Crisps) but the great ones cost at least $6 or $7, some even more (see: Raincoat Crisps).  No matter how good they are, spending that much money on crackers seems kind of like flushing it down the toilet.  Not to be discouraged, I headed to Target to get something of the simple and cheap variety.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), I'm a label reader and the ingredient list on most cracker boxes I picked up was long and sketchy.  Sure, they had Kashi's and Wasa Crisps there but, nothing was quite what I wanted so, I thought: why don't I just make my own?

And so I did. And it was so ridiculously easy that I can't believe I didn't try it sooner.  I made up this recipe on my own and it came out really well. Simple and wheat-y, which is just what I wanted. Of course cracker variations are endless so feel free to stray from this recipe entirely if you so desire. I just wanted to spread the word that whipping up your own cracker is, well, a snap.

Ridiculously Easy Whole Wheat Crackers
My crackers came out a bit under-salted so I've upped the salt to 1/2 teaspoon here.  You could also sprinkle some coarse salt over the top after lightly brushing them with olive oil (I did this with fine grain sea salt, and while the taste was right on, they came out looking a bit ashy).  You could also sprinkle the top with seeds or grated cheese.  Endlessly adaptable.  


1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup rye flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons wheat germ
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1/2 teaspoon fine grain salt (you may want to use a bit less if you choose to top them with coarse salt)
1/3 cup cool water, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for tops (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 F.  Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Add the water and olive oil and knead until the mixture forms a uniform ball of dough.  Add more water, a 1/2 tablespoon or so at a time until you get the desired consistency.

Divide the dough in half and place one half on a floured work surface.  Roll out about an 1/8 of an inch thick, lifting and throwing a bit more flour underneath as you go.  Brush dough with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt or other toppings if desired.  Cut the dough into desired shapes with a pizza cutter or sharp knife and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet (feel free to put the crackers very close together).  Do the same with the other half. 

Move the baking sheet(s) to the oven and bake until lightly browned and crisp rotating the baking sheets 1/4 turn every 8-10 minutes.  Mine took about 40 minutes but I started the oven at 300 F and moved up to 350 F near the end.