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A Few Protips

Eggs: find out if they’re good or not by placing in a tall glass of water. If they float, they’re bad, if they stay at the bottom, they’re good. Reason: an air sac inside that slowly expands as the egg ages. If you’re into hard-boiled eggs (I’m not), it will help to peel them to use older eggs… ones that aren’t floating, but show buoyancy (they hit the bottom of the glass, bob up a bit, and then settle back down, but pointing up). For hard-boiled eggs it also makes them easier to peel if you add a tsp of baking soda to the boiling water.

Baking tips: always use unsalted butter. It’s always better for baking. No one tells you these things, but you’ll make such better cookies and whatever else. There’s a note at the beginning of some cookbooks about it, but who reads cookbook intros, usually you go right to the recipe! Also: it helps to refrigerate the dough before baking. Such better cookies and pie crusts!

Parchment paper: like wax paper without the wax. Great for baking: line any metal tray, glass dish or pizza stone to make cleanup quick and simple. From cookies to pizza, squash to meat, it works!

Tea tips: if you make herbal teas, try adding some hot pepper flakes to your next brew. You’d be surprised!

Cilantro Potato Balls

These are adapted from Indian samosas, those usually deep-fried potato and green pea creations. Warm a little oil first, adding a teaspoon each of mustard seeds, dried garlic flakes, and dried onion flakes. Also, start the potatoes boiling ready for mashing (cut them into equal-sized thick slices before boiling to make this step go faster). Gather a bunch of cilantro (I didn’t measure, probably a small bundle), and chop it up (stems included) very finely, so you have a good 1/3 cup or so.

Mix about 2 Tbsp. of lemon juice, 1 tsp. of hot pepper flakes, and just under 1 tsp. of salt with the cilantro. Add perhaps 2/3 cup of freshly chopped onions to the mixture. Then add the flavored oil from the first step with all its tasty bits (garlic/onion flakes and mustard seeds) to this growing mixture, and then mix it all into the mashed potatoes. Optionally, add some unfrozen peas to the mix (they do work well, just as in samosas).

Now, finely grate some hard cheeses (parmesan, asiago, romano, or similar). Make balls of the potato-herb mixture, then roll them on a plate covered in all the shredded cheese. Bake on a sheet for 20 minutes or so at 375° until browned :)

Garlic Hummus

Bring to a boil and then simmer two cans of garbanzo beans plus two cans (for measuring) of water. Stirring occasionally, wait about 1-1/2 hours until almost all the cooking liquid has disappeared. Strain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid (you’re looking for about 1/4 cup).

Mash up the cooked garbanzo beans in a bowl with a potato masher. Add 1 cup of tahini (can be hard to find, but it’s essential). Mix along with 6 Tbsp olive oil, the juice of 2-3 lemons, 4-6 crushed fresh garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp ground cumin, 1/4 tsp sea salt, and optionally some or all of the cooking liquid (if the consistency needs adjusting).

A few ideas for twists on this basic recipe: (1) bake a whole bulb of garlic instead for a roasted garlic flavor, (2) mince fresh basil leaves and stir into your hummus, and (3) add something spicy like habanero sauce to the mix!

That’s it! Dip some pita bread in, enjoy with cheese, olives, and peppers :)

Herbed Pizza Dough

In a bread machine, add 1-1/4 cups water along with 2 Tbsp olive oil. Cover with 4 cups of flour. Make an indentation in the center and add 1 tsp bread machine yeast at room temperature. In separate corners of the pan, add 1-1/2 tsp of salt, 1/2 tsp cane sugar, and between 1/2 – 1 tsp each of any of the following (or similar): black pepper, pepper flakes, dried minced garlic and onion. As usual for dough, aim for a well-kneaded ball that is dry to the touch, not sticky.

Oregano is the pizza spice, and sometimes I toss it in the dough too, but I think it’s better in the sauce. For the sauce I use a can of tomato paste, optionally mixed with some portion of a jar of pesto; or if I’m really feeling ambitious, I remove the skins, then chop and cook up a number of fresh toms, adding fresh basil and oregano, combining the resulting reduction with any fresh pesto (you really have to reduce it to a consistency similar to paste; often I add a small can of tomato paste too).

When the dough is ready, roll it out (thinner than you’d think) on a lightly-floured surface like a piece of parchment paper, then take a fork and make holes everywhere before spreading the sauce. Doing so ensures no big air bubbles ruin a slice. The advantage of rolling it out on parchment paper is that it’s easy to slide onto a pizza stone for baking. This makes two small thin crust pizzas or one large pizzeria-style pizza. Be sure to keep the sauce smooth before spreading it (add any capers afterwards, otherwise it’ll never spread!)

Layer freshly grated mozzarella on top of the sauce, and follow any toppings with a light dusting of a hard cheese like parmesan or asiago on top. Optionally, crimp/tuck the final rolled out dough around the edge to create a bevel around the pizza itself (this way you can layer more ingredients on, and not have them spill out). Even better, crimp/tuck after laying out the sauce and cheese to the edge first, for a stuffed crust.

Bake thin crust pizzas 10-15 minutes, and large thick crust pizzas 25-30 minutes, both around 400°, ideally on a pizza stone.

Butter Pie Crust

I dislike shortening, but I found all recipes for pie crusts seem to rely on at least some. So I crossed two recipes together and (with some additional testing and tweaking) came up with this all-butter pie crust that I love :) You’ll need 2 cups of pastry-wheat flour (Bob’s Red Mill), 2/3 cups unsalted butter (must be unsalted to work), and 6 Tbsp. cold water. For the filling, you’ll want 5 cups of frozen berries or similar, 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 2 Tbsp. lime juice, and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour.

To make the crust, you use one of those pastry-blenders to chop the butter up and mix it in with the flour. This is harder than it sounds, and if you need a break, put everything in the fridge… the colder you keep everything, the better the crust will be. So don’t warm the butter first! The other key is to use no more than 6 Tbsp. of water to help you mix the flour and cold butter together. You’ll want to use more! Just keep at it with the pastry-blender, no matter how stiff it feels. In the end you’ll end up with something rollable, although it will feel like a very dry dough (compared with pizza dough, for example).

Lightly flour the bottom crust before adding the filling. For the filling, mix the frozen berries with the flour, light brown sugar and lime juice, keeping the berries as chilled as possible. Do not glaze the crust (at least, I think it’s better unglazed; to glaze brush the top with a little milk). Now (and I’ve forgotten the reason for this, but it’s important): cook at 375° for 30 minutes, then 350° for 1 hour.

Fresh Gingerbread

Combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1-1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and 1 tsp cinnamon in a large mixing bowl (use a whisk or a fork). Separately, melt 5 Tbsp unsalted butter, 1/2 cup light molasses, and 1/2 cup maple syrup in a saucepan over low heat.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and slowly pour in the melted mixture, mixing well as you go. Quickly add 2/3 cup half-and-half milk along with 1 lightly beaten egg. Once well mixed, add 1 cup fresh ginger (I use a rasp grater with frozen ginger root to make this step easier :)

Pour the mix into some kind of baking pan. Bake 30 minutes to 1 hour at 350° until well risen (so a toothpick comes clean from the center). Immediately turn out onto a rack to cool (it gets sticky otherwise). Far better the next day!