Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pitas with Baked Falafel and Tzatziki Sauce

I don't know what got me feeling all Greek the other day, but this was one fabulous meal!
Homemade Pitas from Brown Eyed Baker, Baked Falafel and Tzatziki sauce from Kalyn's Kitchen. Light and healthy, but very satisfying, and a good way to up your veggie intake!

for the pitas
  • 3 cups of flour (I used all-purpose, but plan on using at least half wheat next time)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 package (2 1/4 tsp) yeast. (regular or instant is fine, just dissolve your yeast in the water and sugar for about 5 minutes if you use regular active dry yeast)
  • 1 1/4-1 1/2 C warm water
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
1. In a large bowl or bowl of your stand mixer, combine all ingredients, mixing with a wooden spoon or paddle attachment until well combined. Either switch to the dough hook, or turn out onto a floured work surface if kneading by hand. Knead for 10 minutes, adding more water or flour as needed, 1 Tbsp at a time, until you have a smooth and elastic dough, moist but not sticky.
2. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk.
3. When doubled, punch down dough and divide into 8 equal pieces. (Use a kitchen scale if you want. I didn't.) Roll each piece into a ball, cover them with a damp towel and let them rest for 20 minutes. The resting lets the dough relax so it's easier to roll out.
4. On a lightly floured surface, roll each ball into an approximate 6-in circle, about 1/4"-1/8" thick. Place pitas on a lightly greased baking sheet or some waxed paper. Allow to rise, uncovered, until almost doubled in thickness, about a half hour.
5. While pitas are rising, preheat oven to 400. Place either a baking stone or over-turned baking sheet on the middle rack to preheat as well- this will be your baking surface, it needs to be hot too.
6. Open the oven, and without removing your baking surface, place as many pitas as can fit without touching. (I could fit 2 at a time on my baking stone, but they seemed to puff up better if I only did one at a time. A wide spatula worked well for both putting them in the oven and taking them out.) Bake about 5 minutes. They should puff up and be slightly browned on the bottom. (Not all of mine puffed up very well, but that's ok. They still tasted good.) Best served warm, but I wouldn't recommend reheating them in the microwave, unless you like a tough pita. In a low oven, or just over a burner works.

for the falafel
  • 1 can (15oz) chickpeas, drained (you can also soak 1 cup dried chickpeas in water overnight, but who keeps dried chickpeas on hand?)
  • 1 C chopped onion
  • 1/4 C chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 C chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2-4 Tbsp flour (any kind will do)
1. Put chickpeas, onion, parsley, cilantro, garlic, salt and cumin in the bowl of a food processor. (I don't have a food processor, I just put it in a medium sized bowl and used my hand blender.) Pulse until mixture is well chopped and combined, but not pureed. Sprinkle over baking powder and flour and pulse a few more times to combine. Mixture should easily stick together when rolled into a ball. If not, add a little more flour. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and chill for a few hours to overnight. (I didn't do this, I didn't see that step, they still turned out good. Might have been more flavorful if I had, though)
2. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400. Spray a large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
3. Shape the mixture into 12 balls, pressing each one flat into a patty a touch less than 1/2" thick. Place on baking sheet. Bake 20-25 minutes, flipping the patties halfway through, till brown on both sides. Serve warm.

for the tzatziki sauce, and no, I have no idea how to pronounce it properly
  • 1 1/2 C non-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1-2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
  • salt for the cucumber, plus salt and pepper to taste
1. Place cucumbers in a colander and generously salt them, about 1 Tbsp. Let stand for 30 minutes to drain. Rinse, drain well and pat dry.
2. Combine all ingredients in a food processor. (I have a little 2 cup mini food processor/chopper thingy I used for this. It wasn't big enough for the falafel. A hand blender would work too.) Process until well blended. Chill for a couple hours before serving to allow the flavors to blend. (This I did do. I thought it was too lemony at first, but it mellowed out and was really tasty after some time in the fridge.)

These are all delicious on their own, but together make one tasty sandwich. Use a sharp knife to cut the pitas in half, and use a sharp pointy knife to help open the pocket, if necessary. I just added some spinach, but you could add anything you want; sliced red onion, sliced cucumber, hummus, lettuce, tomato...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Banana Bread

Except perhaps for the scent of wheat bread baking, the tantalizing fragrance of banana bread is one of the homiest smells ever. Like a chocolate chip cookie, banana bread recipes are pretty basic. I'm not sure what it is about this one, but it has such a nice, crispy, almost candied top crust. The inside is soft, moist and tender. I leave out nuts and chocolate chips because my husband is a purist when it comes to banana bread, but I think those would be great additions to this recipe.
Old-Fashioned Fragrant Banana Bread from the book A Passion For Baking
  • 1/2 C unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 C sugar (I used half white, half brown sugar)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 C mashed ripe banana
  • 1/4 C sour cream
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment. (This is to place the loaf pan on to prevent the bottom from cooking too much. Works great.) Generously spray a 9x5 loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.

2. In a mixer bowl, cream butter and sugar until well blended. Add eggs, banana, sour cream, and vanilla. Fold in dry ingredients, scraping sides of bowl often. Fold in 1 C each chocolate chips and nuts, if you want.

3. Spoon into prepared pan. Bake 50-55 minutes, or until bread springs back when gently pressed with fingertips. (You can do the toothpick thing, too.) It may be cracked a bit on top, that's ok. If it doesn't seem done after 55 minutes, reduce temp to 325 and bake another 10-15 minutes. Cool in pan 20 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Brazillian Chicken Stroganoff

I'm not sure how authentically Brazilian this is, not being familiar with Brazilian food, but I got this recipe from my friend Amanda, who got it from her sister-in-law, who got it from her in-laws who lived in Brazil for a time, so there.
Brazilian Chicken Stroganoff (slightly adapted)

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts

1/2 C chicken broth, give or take

2 Cans Nestle Creme (found in the Mexican aisle) or cream (I used half-and-half, about 2 C)

1 small can tomato paste

Spices to taste (I sauteed onion and garlic, seasoned with salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and oregano)

Hot cooked rice

Place chicken, it can be frozen, in a crock pot and cover with water or chicken broth. Season with salt and pepper and garlic, if desired. Cook on low until done, about 6-8 hours. Drain off water and shred chicken. Either replace in crock pot, or in a large pan on the stove top. Stir in tomato paste, about 1/2 C of chicken broth and the cream. Should be a pinkish sauce about the consistency of gravy. Add more chicken broth until you get the consistency you want. Season as desired. You can serve it once it's heated through, or you can keep it warm on low heat until ready to serve. Just take care not to warm it too much, you don't want to curdle the cream. Serve over hot cooked rice.

This is one of those recipes where you just kinda go by what works for you. I made this last week, and my poor hubby had a cold and couldn't really taste it, but I sure loved it! It is so simple, but oh so good! This will definitely become part of our regular rotation.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

A chocolate chip cookie is... a chocolate chip cookie. There's not much you can do to change the basic recipe of a chocolate chip cookie, but do a Google search for a chocolate chip cookie recipe and you'll get hundreds of different recipes, each claiming to be the best. I guess everybody has their own likes and dislikes, no matter how subtle the differences in various recipes. Me, I like to use butter and not shortening, and I use all brown sugar for a deeper flavor compared to a combination of white and brown sugar. I do like walnuts in mine, but my son is allergic to walnuts so I leave them out.
This is supposedly a copycat recipe of the giant chocolate chip cookies at Levain Bakery in New York. Never having tasted one of their cookies -or heard of the bakery before- I have no idea how close they are, but these are pretty darn tasty.
chocolate chip cookies (adapted from My Baking Addiction)
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 C brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 3/4 C flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 C chocolate chips
1 C chopped walnuts, optional
1. Preheat oven to 375 and line baking sheets with parchment paper
2. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with the paddle attatchment, cream together butter and sugar, at least 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and vanilla, beating until well combined.
3. Add flour, salt, baking soda and powder and mix until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts.
4. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets (I used a medium cookie scoop, you can make them whatever size you want, including big giant sized, just adjust baking time accordingly.)
5. Bake 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden. Cool for a few minutes on the pan before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
After mixing the dough I almost added another egg, it was a little dry. The cookies are fine, just not as soft and chewey as I like. Next time I'll reduce the flour by a 1/4 C or so. I have read that adding a Tbsp of corn starch to the dough keeps the cookies tender, although I haven't tried it yet. You can replace the butter with shortening or do a mix of the two, but I like using all butter. It tastes better, and although shortening is lower in fat and calories, I think that since butter is a natural product with only one ingredient, it is overall healthier for your body than the long list of oils and artificial flavors and colors in shortening. Just remember moderation. :)