A Distant Relation to Cornbread: Whole Wheat Savory Cake

Peter tells me I should put a disclaimer on this recipe, because I totally made it up one evening when we were out of cornmeal and I wanted bread to dip in soup–cornbread being the natural go-to as it comes together in about half an hour (including baking time).  While it may seem strange to make a “cake” out of olive oil, coarsely-ground whole wheat flour, and not much honey, I find the combination of thick sandwich bread sponginess and cornbread cake crumb quite delectable, and perfect for eating with and dipping in soup.  Starting from the cornbread recipe from a box of Alber’s cornbread, I have tried all kinds of tweaks, but this one I will make again.  The coarsely-ground whole wheat flour almost has the consistency of cornmeal, which I like.  And I’ve added enough honey to make it as sweet as I wish I could remember to make cornbread.

Whole Wheat Savory Cake
1 1/2 cups coarsely-ground whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 – 1/3 cups honey
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/3 cup olive oil (or other vegetable oil)
2 eggs
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Oil a baking pan (I use a glass pie dish).  Mix the dry ingredients (flour, oats, baking powder, and salt) and wet ingredients (honey, milk, olive oil, and eggs) separately.  Combine and mix as little as possible.  Put in the baking pan and plop in the oven immediately.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is golden-brown and it passes the knife test (a sharp knife inserted in the middle comes out clean).

There have been other adventures in the kitchen.  I have been craving stuffing for some reason.  Well, not just for some reason.  It’s nearly Thanksgiving time, and of all the November holiday foods, stuffing is my favorite.  I like it with big pieces of holey bread, onion, celery, carrots, apples, raisins, and perhaps chicken broth?  In a fit of impatience I decided to cook stuffing around a chicken instead of inside it or next to it.  The part of the stuffing not soaked in chicken broth was perfect, but next time I won’t add any water to the bottom of the chicken and accidentally drench the bread cubes.  Amazing how even mushy bread tastes amazing when it is stuffing (Peter heartily disagrees, as he’s less of a fan of both stuffing and soggy bread).

Brazilian Cheese Puffs (Naturally Gluten-Free!)

Last year my mom sent me a box of gluten-free flours to play with.  I had a lot of fun experimenting with gluten-free flour baking, but eventually I used most of the flours up, and now only tapioca starch, sorghum flour, and potato starch are left.  But what is one to do with these by themselves?  Well, a world of googling later, I found myself once again at the King Arthur Flour blog, a truly happy place of baking bliss.  I had never heard of Brazilian Cheese Puffs made with only tapioca starch/flour, but they’re real, and oh so delicious!  Needless to say I baked up a half-batch immediately (turns out I didn’t have as much tapioca flour as I thought), and the best part?  They can be reheated in the microwave for 30 seconds to return to their warm, puffed recently-baked state, so they make an excellent snack at work (ok, maybe the best part is eating them, but you get the idea).

Brazilian Cheese Puffs
(Makes less than a dozen puffs, so double the recipe if you have company)
1 cup tapioca starch/flour
1/3 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup butter
1/8 cup milk
1/8 cup water
3/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Melt the butter in a pot with the water, milk, and salt.  Bring the mixture to a boil and then pour into a heat-proof bowl containing the tapioca flour.  Beat the batter until it is elastic.  Add the cheese and beat until combined.  Slowly add the beaten egg and mix the dough until it is a smooth batter that is scoopable.  If it is too watery to be scooped, add more tapioca flour.  If the batter is too thick, add a bit more water or milk.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Scoop 1 tablespoon sized dollops of the batter onto the parchment paper (the batter will spread out slightly).  Bake for 20 minutes until slightly browned and totally puffed.  Eat when hot, warm, or room-temp.

Rustic Apple Tart

I was lucky enough to spend last weekend in Charleston for a conference.  The weather was perfect: sunny days, clear and warm nights, low humidity, and no rain.  Perhaps I didn’t appreciate it enough, because upon returning to California I haven’t seen the sun since.  Now it is chilly, breezy, misty, and altogether autumn-like.  Luckily our new apartment has built-in heaters that appear to have on-switches (unlike our old apartment), so I look forward to having a heated apartment this winter.  And until the chill becomes unbearable, and thus heater-worthy, I’ve enjoyed turning the oven on as often as possible (always with the excuse of baking something of course).

I used to have a thing for pies.  By “thing” I mean I loved them more than all other sweet and delicious baked goods on the planet.  Part of this was because I didn’t know how to bake cakes, and with the discovery of a certain beer-infused chocolate cake and a fantastic chocolate dessert cookbook I forgot about pies almost entirely.  But not completely.  I am constantly looking for that perfect, flaky, buttery pie crust, and sweet or savory toppings/fillings to make it all worthwhile.   After returning from Charleston, I found a bag of discounted apples in the fridge (the apples with little blemishes that drop their price from 3$/pound to 1$/pound), and all of a sudden had a bizarre urge to find the best pie crust recipe in my cookbook collection and attempt a rustic, aka free-form, tart.  The recipe for the crust is adapted from The Commonsense Kitchen, and while it may look a bit strange with the addition of fresh-squeezed orange juice (from the original recipe), let me assure you that this is the best crust I’ve ever made, and I’m currently planning a whole slew of pies and tarts to have an excuse to try it again.  The orange juice has no effect on the taste of the crust, other than to make it taste slightly sweet, but apparently the acidity helps the crust come out just right.

Perfect Butter Pie Crust
(Enough for one crust to make a rustic tart)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 stick cold butter (from the fridge, not the freezer)
3-5 tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice
Start by combining the flours, sugar, and salt in a bowl.  Cut the butter into thin slices and add them to the flour mixture.  Use your hands to quickly incorporate the butter into the flour, leaving most of the butter in pea-sized pieces.  It is good to do this quickly so that the butter doesn’t become too soft.  The pea-sized pieces of butter will help the crust be flaky when it’s baked.  Sprinkle in as much orange juice as necessary, 1 tablespoon at a time, to make the dough just come together; it should not be sticky!  Gather the dough into a ball and wrap it in plastic wrap.  Press down on the dough to make a disk of dough about 1 inch thick, and let sit in the fridge for an hour or more to chill and let the dough relax (which makes it easier to roll out).  When you’re ready to bake the tart, roll the dough out to a thickness of 1/8 inches between the plastic wrap and a piece of parchment paper.  Put the dough on the baking surface (an ungreased glass pie dish for me) and fill with delicious things like an apple tart filling (recipe below).  Then fold the corners up over the sides of the filling and bake at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.

Apple Tart Filling
(Enough for one rustic apple tart)
2-4 apples, cut into thin slivers
3-4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Dash of nutmeg and cloves, or cinnamon
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl.  Pour the apple filling into the pie crust described above, leaving an inch around the edge to fold the dough up over the filling.


Roasted Vegetable Soup

These were some of the last of the summer vegetables: little Japanese eggplants, summer squash, and bell peppers.  They were in my fridge for far too long, perhaps because I was afraid of what their absence might mean (a whole 6 months of eating winter vegetables).  There are still the occasional summer vegetable at the farmer’s market, but they look tired now, and misshapen.  With the chill of the last few days I want my food hot, and I want an excuse to turn on the oven.

Roasted Vegetable Soup
2-3 tomatoes fit for broth, diced
1 onion, half diced and half coarsely chopped
2-4 Japanese eggplants, cut into coins
1-2 summer squash, cut into coins (or equivalent size)
1-2 bell peppers, cut into strips
Olive oil
Dash of red wine vinegar or red wine
Salt and cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Mix the coarsely chopped onions, eggplant, squash, and peppers with olive oil, salt, and cayenne pepper in a bowl.  Put the dressed veggies on a tray to bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, turning the veggies after 20 minutes.  The roasted veggies should be shrunken, golden brown around the edges, and smell heavenly.  While the veggies are roasting, saute the diced onion in olive oil in a soup pot.  When the onion is soft and golden, add the diced tomatoes and cook for about 10 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down.  This process is faster if you salt the tomatoes.  Add the dash of red wine or red wine vinegar (I use leftover red wine that’s been sitting on the counter for months) and around 6 cups of water (or however much you gauge will fit in your pot to give the consistency of soup you want once you add the veggies).  Let this tomato broth simmer, perhaps with some additional herbs (bay leaves, thyme, oregano?).  Once the roasted veggies are done, add them to the broth and cook for a little longer.  I like eating this soup with a bit of yogurt in it, and plenty of salt.

Onion, Salami, Kale, and Tomato Crustless Quiche

One of my favorite dishes to improvise is quiche.  Once you have the ratio of eggs to milk, and a generous helping of cheese, the rest is a great way to clean out the fridge.  I used to not make quiche simply because it required a crust, but oh was I confused.  Once I realized that the quiche sets just fine without a flaky, buttery blanket, I never looked back.

Onion, Salami, Kale, and Tomato Crustless Quiche
(Enough for two people)
2 eggs
1 cup milk, mixture of skim and 1% or whatever you prefer
1/2 – 1 cup grated cheese, such as fontina
1/8 teaspoon salt
Dash of cayenne pepper
Dash of nutmeg
1 medium onion slices into long thin slivers
Thin slices of good salami
1 packed cup chopped dino kale
1 ripe tomato, thinly sliced
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Put the sliced onion in a pot with a little olive oil and cook on low heat until the onions have caramelized.  Stir the onions frequently, and add a teaspoon of water as necessary to keep the onions from burning.  When the onions are done, add the salami to the pot and cook just until the fat in the salami has melted and the salami slices have shrunk.  Set the onion/salami mixture aside to cool.  While the onions are cooking, steam the dino kale until tender and set aside.  Prepare the custard by whisking the eggs with the milk and adding the salt, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, and grated cheese.  Coat a few small glass baking dishes with butter.  I used glass dishes that were a little too small this time, so the cooking time was longer, but I recommend wider and shallower dishes so that the quiche cooks evenly.  Add the onion/salami mixture and the kale to the custard mixture, and pour into the glass baking dishes.  Place the slices of tomato on top.  Bake the quiche for 5 minutes at 400 degrees F, and then reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F and bake for another 30 minutes or so, until the quiche has lightly set in the center and the top is golden brown.  I usually wait for the quiche to cool before digging in, as it will become a bit more structurally sound.


Peanut Butter Cookies, the Simple Version

In the realm of cookies, it’s hard to compete with the ones someone else makes for you.  But those have one major disadvantage: they do not contain peanut butter.  I like to think of myself as being an any kind of cookie opportunist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t seriously prefer anything that has peanut butter (peanut butter pie for example… I know that’s not a cookie, but it is one of my favorite kinds of pie).  The standard peanut butter cookie recipe that calls for a stick of butter and one cup peanut butter is delicious when someone else makes it and I don’t have to think about how, err, rich they are, but I’ve recently found an underground of butterless and flourless peanut butter cookie recipes that tastes wonderfully peanut-buttery.  Please don’t remind me that these flourless peanut butter cookies are probably actually richer, since the flour filler is gone…

Flourless and Butterless Peanut Butter Cookies
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 to 1 cup sugar (I find 1/2 cup perfect, but I don’t like these too sweet)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Salt if using unsalted peanut butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Mix the ingredients and shape into little walnut-sized balls.  Place these cookie dough balls on a baking sheet and give them the traditional cross-hatch with a fork.  Bake for 10 minutes or so, until almost solid (they solidify while cooling).

Chanterelles with Butter and Leeks

One of the most exciting finds at the farmer’s market is always a new kind of mushroom, since there are no dedicated mushroom stalls.  Instead, I have to scout carefully and pounce when, for example, I see these beauties hiding in a basket next to crates full of tomatoes (put there to distract me, no doubt).   People have told me to cook Chanterelles with butter and cream, but we never seem to have cream in the house.  Besides, it seems a bit excessive, when all you really need is a bit of butter and perhaps a lightly flavored member of the onion-family.

Chanterelles with Butter and Leeks
Handful of Chanterelles, carefully cleaned
One or more young leeks
Teaspoon or more of butter
Dash of salt
Clean the Chanterelles using a damp cloth or by running them briefly under running water.  Cut them into medium-thick slices.  Cut the white part of the leek into thin disks, carefully washing away any dirt caught in the layers.  Melt the butter in a skillet and saute the leeks until they are halfway cooked.   Add the mushrooms and a dash of salt.  Cook the mushroom and leeks until the mushrooms are nicely browned.  Eat warm.